BOX: Illinois 76 Clemson 74
Wednesday night's 23-point second half lead over Illinois wasn't enough for 18th ranked Clemson to come away with the ACC's fourth win in the Big-Ten/ACC Challenge.
"It certainly looked like a tale of two halves to me," said Clemson coach Oliver Purnell, who believes play in the first couldn't have gotten much better, maybe with the exception of some better shooting.
Illinois coach Bruce Weber made the "excuse" Purnell refused to accept. He wouldn't buy into the idea that his players were tired after flying cross-country from Anaheim, Calif. two days earlier.
"I think that we relaxed and let a good basketball team with very capable players get going," Purnell said.
Shots that were contested by Clemson defenders in the first half became open looks in the second as Illinois shot 67 percent from the field in the final 20 minutes
Poor shooting on the other end didn't help either. The Tigers went nearly six minutes without a field goal in the second half.
The drought allowed the Illini to mount a 22-1 run and take the 63-61 lead with 8:47 to play. Clemson didn't regain the upper hand until Tanner Smith's 3-pointer moved the score to 74-73 with 2:01 to play.
"The pressure kind of shifted on the home team," Purnell said. "That's how you go in and steal a road win.
Center Mike Tisadle made the difference for Illinois down the stretch, hitting the go-ahead layup with 41 seconds to play, and then blocking a David Potter shot on the other end.
Down 75-74, Clemson was forced to foul Brandon Paul, who hit one of two free throws.
With visions of his clutch last minute play against Butler, Demontez Stitt drove to his left but missed the game-tying layup with two seconds to play.
Clemson drops to 6-2 and Illinois improves to 5-2.
Four Illini starters scored in double figures. Mike Davis scored a game-high 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Paul scored 20, D.J. Richardson had 14 and Tisdale finished with 12.
"(Illinois) hung in there and didn't quit," Purnell said. "They kept searching, changing defenses and their kids kept playing hard. You've got to give them credit."
Comfortable with a big lead, Stitt said started relaxing.
"We just got lazy. They made a run and went through a little adversity," he said. "We talk about dealing with adversity. We just didn't handle it well tonight."
As Tanner Smith walked off the court, he thought back to last season's loss at Florida State when Clemson blew an 18-point lead.
"Last year, kind of after that loss, we continued to play not up to our potential. This year, we can't do that," he said. "We can't let this one loss turn to two or three or four."
With a few days between games, the break comes at a time when respite could be greatly needed.
Energy shouldn't be a problem when rival South Carolina comes to Littlejohn on Sunday.
"They're going to come in hungry," Smith said. "We've got to exceed that intensity and remember how this (loss) feels."
Stitt continued where he left off in Anaheim, scoring a team best 15.Trevor Booker had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
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