Tigers cruise past Winthrop

CLEMSON - No. 19 Clemson beats Winthrop 102-66 in the Tiger's final game before heading to the 76 Classic in Anaheim.

An 18-point halftime lead wasn't quite comforting enough for coach Oliver Purnell, who wanted Clemson to turn up the heat in the second half against a young Winthrop team Monday night.

With a 50-32 advantage at halftime, Clemson's 15-0 run to start the half helped pace the 19th ranked Tigers to a 102-66 win over the visiting Eagles in Littlejohn Coliseum.

"We talked at the half about staying strong," Purnell said. "The fact that Winthrop had come back from double-digit deficits twice in second halves and won, we couldn't have started much better in the second half.

Andre Young said Monday night's focus was to start each half off on the right foot.

"We just wanted to have a real focused, defensive mindset," he said. "That's what we did."

Purnell's Tigers ran away with a fourth straight win, improving to 4-0 this season. The loss drops Winthrop to 2-2.

In a game that Winthrop led only once, thanks to a Matt Morgan jump-shot on the game's first possession, Trevor Booker had game-highs with 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Without any proof that Winthrop could handle Booker down low, the Naismith Player of the Year candidate was put to work in the second half.

"They sent a few people down, but hadn't proved that they could guard him (in the first half)," Purnell said. "Let's make them prove that they would commit the whole team to him--they didn't, and we got the ball to him."

Booker was one of six Clemson players to reach double figures.

Young, David Potter and Noel Johnson each scored 12. Jerai Grant had 11 and Tanner Smith 10.

All 11 of Grant's points came in the first half. Four points came off a pair of thunderous dunks, thanks to crashing the offensive glass.

"He's a big factor for us," Purnell said. "Here's a guy who was the most improved player for us last year. He's a junior, big guy that we need. I liken his progress to Ray Sykes. But I think he's got a chance to be better."

The first half also saw several fouls called both ways (Winthrop 18 and Clemson 12). Clemson was in the double bonus eight minutes into the half. The Tigers shot 18-24 from the charity stripe in the half (75 percent) and finished the game 24-37 (65 percent).

As the season progresses, Purnell recognizes the importance of free-throw shooting after a disappointing effort in Monday night's blowout.

"I thought we shot them a lot better this week in practice and expected it to show up," he said. "When you're way up, it's hard to keep that concentration. We have to work at that. That's a big difference maker."

The first true tests for Clemson await 3,000 miles away in California. The Tigers left for Atlanta after Monday's game for a Tuesday morning flight to Anaheim where a first-round matchup versus Texas A&M and the 76 Classic await.

Tanner Smith said the Tigers are ready to see how they stack up against stronger competition.

"We're playing some good teams and some teams that are going to really give us some good challenges and put us back on the map," he said.

Purnell likes where his team is at to this point in the season. It's hard to gauge what he's seen so far in three games versus teams from the Big South and another versus North Carolina-Greensboro of the Southern Conference.

"We're obviously stepping up in class when we go out to the tournament in Anaheim," he said. "So far, so good. We've got some tests coming up to find out where we are and how far we need to go."

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