No. 11 Tigers Face Alabama

CLEMSON - Before the No. 11 Tigers head back into the rough and rugged ACC, they'll welcome Alabama to Littlejohn Coliseum Tuesday night.

WHAT: Alabama (10-3) at No. 11 Clemson (14-0)
WHERE: Littlejohn Coliseum (10,000) - Clemson, S.C.
WHEN: Tuesday, Jan. 6 (9:00 PM)
SPREAD: Tigers by 13.5
TV: Fox Sports

And if you listen to Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell, it promises to be anything but an easy matchup.

The Crimson Tide enter Tuesday night's matchup with a 10-3 record and winner of five straight, including a crushing home victory over Georgia Tech this past weekend.

"Alabama is playing as well as anybody right now. They had Georgia Tech down by 32 in the second half," Purnell said. "They are really playing at a high level. They may be playing as well as anybody we've played all year."

The same two teams faced off a year ago in Tuscaloosa with Clemson handing the Crimson Tide its worst home loss in almost 28 years. It was the worst non-conference defeat for Alabama since 1970 when it suffered a 28-point setback to Ohio State.

Meanwhile the Tigers have gotten off to another fast start under Oliver Purnell with 14 straight wins to open the 2008-09 season and have vaulted to No. 11 in USA Today/Coaches Poll, their highest ranking in nearly 11 years.

Still, Purnell says there is plenty of work to be done, and as the Tigers get set to enter the heart of ACC play after this game, you can understand why.

Clemson has gotten off to fast starts in each of the previous two seasons, including a 17-0 start two years ago, only to make the NCAA Tournament once. And this year the Atlantic Coast Conference looks as formidable as it ever has with five teams ranked inside the Top 25 and three teams inside the top five.

Senior center Ray Sykes has stepped in for James Mays nicely this season, averaging nine points and 5.3 boards per game.
"I think it's important for us to recognize that we are a work in progress, no matter about the rankings," he said. "We've got a ways to go in certain areas. We need to rebound the ball better. We need to execute better with our screen game and we need to make sure we stay balanced offensively."

Alabama is led in scoring by forward Alonzo Gee (14.7 ppg) and guard Ronald Steele (13.7 ppg). Gee, who led the Tide in scoring last year against Clemson with 17 points, also leads Alabama on the boards at 7.3 rebounds per contest.

The Tigers are led by K.C. Rivers at 15.3 points per game and on the boards by Trevor Booker at 9.6 rebounds/game.

While Clemson continues to be a full court pressure team, a trademark of Purnell, the Tigers have become more of an offensive squad this season.

The Tigers are shooting six percent better from the free throw line compared to a year ago and have three players averaging 13 points or more.

The improved shooting has caused the long scoring droughts that have plagued Clemson in years past to virtually disappear. In fact the Tigers have already overcome five deficits of eight or more points to earn victory this season, including rallying from more than 10 points down on three occasions.

"I think we are pretty balanced offensively. I feel like we have the type of offensive weapons that when we really 'D' it up and rebound the ball that we can play with anybody and beat anybody," Purnell said.

"But we've got to keep our eye on the ball as far as that's concerned. Alabama is really really good and that's what we've got to be focused on."

The Tigers lead the overall series 4-3 and have won four of the last five meetings.

PROBABLE STARTERS
No. 11 Clemson (14-0)
G #2 Demontez Stitt (6-2,175) - 8.5 PPG, 3.7 APG
G #22 Terrence Oglesby (6-2,190) - 13.6 PPG, 1.5 RPG
C #12 Raymond Sykes (6-9,220) - 9.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG
F #1 K.C. Rivers (6-5,215) - 15.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG
F #35 Trevor Booker (6-7,240) - 14.6 PPG, 9.6 RPG

Alabama (10-3)
G #22 Ronald Steele (6-1,191) - 13.7 PPG, 3.8 APG
G #21 Sergio Hillman(6-1,188) - 13.7 PPG, 3.5 RPG
C #32 JaMychal Green (6-9,225) - 8.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG
F #40 Justin Knox (6-9,236) - 5.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG
F #12 Alonzo Gee (6-6,219) - 14.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG


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