Dangerous game looms Tuesday

CLEMSON - Western Carolina's 10-straight wins coupled with road victories over Bradley and Louisville have drawn every bit of Oliver Purnell's attention.

WHAT: Western Carolina at No. 23 Clemson
WHERE: Littlejohn Coliseum (10,000) - Clemson, S.C.
WHEN: Tuesday, December 22 (7:30 PM)
SPREAD: Clemson by 15
TV: None

The Catamounts travel to Littlejohn Coliseum to play the Tigers at 7:30 on Tuesday in Clemson's final outing before Christmas. Purnell expects his team to run into tough, experienced group that enters with a 10-1 record.

"They have juniors and seniors that have been together for a while, and they're well coached," he said.

"This is a dangerous team. They've proven that on the floor."

Senior forward Jake Robinson leads Western Carolina in scoring, averaging 12.4 points a contest. Junior guard Mike Williams is second on the team in scoring with 10.7 a game. And strangely enough, neither have started a game this season.

"They're really strong and really good players," said Tanner Smith, adding that Clemson can't take the two for granted, just because they're coming off the bench.


Demontez Stitt and Tanner Smith have to be aware of Western Carolina's dangerous three-point shooters Tuesday night. (Roy Philpott)

Robinson and Williams have combined to make 37 of the 86 3-pointers that Western Carolina has knocked down this year. The team is shooting 35 percent from behind the arc.

"They can really shoot. That's something that we've kind of struggled with during the year--taking away three's from people," Smith said. "We need to make sure we stay up and take that away from them."

Head coach Larry Hunter also starts three seniors, a junior and a red-shirt sophomore. One of the seniors, Brandon Giles, leads the starters in scoring with 9.9 a game. He and fellow senior Brigham Waginer both shoot better than 34 percent from 3-point land.

On film, Purnell has seen mostly man-to-man defense with a little 1-3-1 zone from the Catamounts, who are holding teams to a 38 percent shooting percentage from the field and 26 percent from behind the 3-point line.

Against College of Charleston on Sunday, Clemson shot 60 percent from the field--the best percentage the Tigers have shot since 2005 against Puerto Rico-Mayaguez. As long as Clemson continues its inside-out approach on offense, Smith believes the Tigers should be able to shoot well.

"That gives us a lot better shots. It keeps us open. With (Trevor) Booker and Jerai (Grant) down there getting rebounds and making good plays, I think maybe it can go up," he said.

Noel Johnson made his first career start for Clemson on Sunday and will be in the starting five again on Tuesday.

"It gave us a real pop defensively and never looked back (against College of Charleston). That group kind of set that tone. It was with (David) Potter, (Milton) Jennings and Andre Young," Purnell said.

Sitting at 10-2, two games remain on the schedule before Clemson gets into ACC play.

"If we play well (Tuesday) night and win, I'll feel like we're playing well going into Christmas playing well," Purnell said. "I feel like we're coming along as a team and we've played some really good basketball.

"We've learned some lessons and I'll feel good about where we are, but that's a big if."

PROBABLE STARTERS
No. 23 Clemson (10-2)
G #2 Demontez Stitt (6-2,175) - 9.9 PPG, 3.9 APG
G #5 Tanner Smith (6-5, 220) - 10.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG
C #45 Jerai Grant (6-8,220) - 6.1 PPG, 4 RPG
F #1 Noel Johnson (6-6,190) - 5.2 PPG, 2 RPG
F #35 Trevor Booker (6-7,240) - 13.7 PPG, 9.2 RPG

PROBABLE STARTERS
Western Carolina (10-1)
G #13 Brigham Waginger (6-2,175) - 8.5 PPG, 4.5 APG
G #22 Harouna Mutombo (6-4, 195) - 8.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG
G #1 Brandon Giles (6-6,200) - 9.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG
F #2 Kendall Russell (6-6,205) - 3.6 PPG, 3.3 RPG
F #50 Richie Gordon (6-9,245) - 6.2 PPG, 4.5 RPG


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