The Flames will travel to Clemson Saturday with a 5-4 record, fresh off a 89-47 rout at the hands of the Iowa Hawkeyes last Saturday night.
Liberty is led in scoring by Vincent Okotie, a 6-7 forward with nice outside range. Okotie, who is just one of two seniors for the Flames, comes into Saturday's game averaging 14.5 points per contest, including 48% (13-27) from three-point range.
Meanwhile the Tigers are coming off an impressive 58-51 win over the Cincinnati Bearcats. Starting point guard Ed Scott led the way in the victory with 20 points and 6 assists for Clemson.
Scott has been instrumental in the surprising resurgence in basketball at Clemson University this season, leading the team in scoring in each of the seven games (19.4 points/game) played thus far.
Backcourt teammate Chey Christie is the second leading scorer, averaging 12.1 points a contest, while starting center Sharrod Ford leads the way on the boards, averaging just over 8 rebounds per contest.
Head coach Larry Shyatt has his team at 7-0 to start the 2002-03 season, the best start for the Tigers since 1995. "I'm pleased we have seven wins in the book so far, but we still have a long way to go," said Shyatt after last Saturday's big non-conference win.
Saturday's game against the Flames is the first of two "warm-up" games before the start of the ACC regular season. Clemson will battle Coastal Carolina on New Year's Eve before taking on the nationally ranked Duke Blue Devils to open up conference play on January 5th.
The early part of the season hasn't been kind to Clemson during recent years, especially in 2001. After early season losses to South Carolina and Duke, the Tigers did the unthinkable by losing to both Yale and Winthrop.
"Three years ago and just last year we lost two games early on that hurt us badly. I think our older players should be able to recognize that and they should the responsible parties that insure that doesn't happen again this season," Shyatt said in reference to that fact.
So far so good, as Clemson has stayed perfect after battling the likes of Winthrop, High Point, Maine, and Gardner-Webb.
One of the main reasons for the fast start for Clemson this season has been due to improvement on defense. The Tigers come into Saturday's game limiting the opposition to just 54-of-171 (31%) from behind the arc, and 162-of-416 (38%) overall.
The Flames will likely help those stats Saturday, as Liberty comes into this contest connecting on just 39% of their field goals overall, and an embarrassing 29% from 3-point range.
While the effort on the defensive end has been more consistent this season, it goes without saying that the transfer of Tony Stockman and his poor shot selection has aided the cause. Stockman's erratic shot selection often led to fast breaks and backbreaking runs by the opposition late in the game last year.
Liberty is coming of one of their worst seasons in school history, posting a 5-25 record last year. However, first year coach Randy Dunton has already equaled last season's win total with 5 wins in just 9 contests this year.
Coach Shyatt has emphasized all season long how imperative it is for his team to play well against some of the weaker teams on the schedule, and Saturday will likely be the most opportune time for the team to sleepwalk through a game.
While the Tigers are coming off an impressive win over a traditional basketball powerhouse in the Cincinnati Bearcats, this game has "letdown" written all over it.
Nevertheless, Liberty is one of the weakest teams on the schedule this season, and even a minimal effort Saturday should produce a 10-point win.
With just two more games before Clemson enters conference play, now is a good time as any to try and get Chris Hobbs back into the mix. The junior from Chapel Hill is averaging only 7.6 points per game this season.
Interestingly enough, Hobbs will take the floor Saturday with a splint on his right ring finger after injurying a ligament against the Bearcats, so an explosive performance might be a little too much to ask.
Clemson 78 Liberty 61
Tigers Looking to Stay Unbeaten
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