Next Step to the Big Dance Begins Tonight

CLEMSON – A win against Florida State Tuesday night will put the Clemson basketball team in an area that is no doubt rarified air to the Tigers, though it's rather commonplace for most others. But it's all about taking baby steps.

WHAT: Clemson (19-6, 7-4 ACC) at Florida State (14-12, 3-8 ACC)
WHERE: Tucker Center
WHEN: 7:05 p.m., Tuesday
SPREAD: Clemson by 3.5
TV: Fox Sports Net

In each of the five years under coach Oliver Purnell, Clemson has improved as a team each season. During his first year, the Tigers won three games, then five in year two, seven in year three, seven again and a trip to the NIT finals last year and now, they are on the cusp of winning their eighth ACC game.

That might sound like a big deal, but considering where Clemson basketball has been over the last decade, it is a rather big accomplishment.

An eighth league win would assure the Tigers of at least a break-even season in the ACC, something they have done since 1996-97, when Clemson went 9-7. Moreover, the Tigers have finished with a .500 or better league record just 10 times in their previous 54 years in the ACC.

"I think we're playing pretty good," junior forward K.C. Rivers said. "But we don't want to be satisfied with jut being good. We want to move up."

A sure sign of improvement in the program is the fact that a victory against the Seminoles would also give Clemson its 20th win of the season.

It would be the second straight year the Tigers have reached at least 20 wins, which, unbelievably, has happened just one other time in school history, 1979-80 when Clemson was 23-9 and 1980-81 when Clemson was 20-11.

"Right now, it seems we're on a roll," said senior forward James May. "We want to do great things."

And that has been the battle cry all season long for the Tigers. From the very first press conference, Purnell said his team's ultimate goal was to win the national championship, which seemed a little odd for a program that hasn't been in the NCAA Tournament in 10 years.

While no one is suggesting that Clemson will do it, how well it does over these last five games will go a long way toward determining just good of a seed it will get, and the better the seed, obviously the better the odds of advancing.

But that's still in the distant future.

"You don't want to think about that right now," Rivers said. "We're just focusing in on our short-term goals. Making the NCAA Tournament is our intermediate goal, but right now our goal is beating Florida State this week."

Note: Senior guard Cliff Hammonds, the heart and soul of the Tigers, will tie Greg Buckner's Clemson record for consecutive games started when he makes his 122nd straight start at Florida State. Also, he needs just 16 minutes played to become the third Clemson player in history to play 4000 minutes in a career.

Seems only fitting that he's doing this in Tallahassee, considering he grew up just 30 miles from there in Tifton, Ga. Hammonds will get the start in front of his family and friends.

PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
Clemson (19-6, 7-4 ACC)
G 25 Cliff Hammonds (6-3, 200) 12.0 ppg, 4.0 apg
F 1 K.C. Rivers (6-5, 215) 15.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg
C 35 Trevor Booker (6-7, 240) 11.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg
F 40 James Mays (6-9, 230) 10.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg
F 32 Sam Perry (6-5, 215) 2.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg

Florida State (14-12, 3-8 ACC)
G 23 Toney Douglas (6-1, 200) 15.3 ppg, 3.0 apg
G 10 Ralph Mims (6-3, 211) 10.9 ppg 4.4 rpg
C 41 Uche Echefu (6-9, 225) 10.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg
G 25 Jason Rich (6-3, 205) 13.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg
F 42 Ryan Reid (6-9, 230) 5.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg

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