The next step for Noel Johnson?

CLEMSON - Through the course of an ACC schedule, even in a down year, there are games you mark down as must-wins.

Saturday afternoon against Boston College was clearly one of those games.

Oh sure, the Eagles were fully capable of springing the upset, especially considering they are the only team to beat Miami this year and also took care of Michigan on the road, but this was a game Clemson should have won.

And it did, somewhat comfortably, at 72-56.

"We forced them into a low-shooting percentage all night," head coach Oliver Purnell said afterwards. "I thought our entire team did a good job touching the ball in the paint because we could have gotten three-point happy.

"And we have to try and stay away from that most of the rest of the year. We swung it side-to-side and had space to drive it or throw it in the post."

Interestingly enough, somewhat lost in the offensive shuffle of Saturday's win was the improved play of freshman guard Noel Johnson.

Part of Clemson's heralded freshman class; Johnson has been patiently waiting his turn to shine in Clemson's rotation all season long. And while his stats (7 points on 2-of-4 shooting, 4 rebounds, 3 steals) won't blow anybody away, by all accounts, it was another step in the right direction.

A very important step.

"I thought it was one of his better games," Purnell said. "He's going to get his shots but he wasn't a defensive liability. I told him I thought it was one of his better games because of that. He also was every where on the boards and that's something we needed."

Clemson's seventh-year head coach then summed it up with three simple words: "He was outstanding," he said.

After a quick turnover midway through the second half it was Johnson's quick hands and sharp passing that helped keep Clemson on pace for the easy win.

He intercepted two passes with B.C. in position for easy scores and helped direct a fast break with a nice no-look pass to Demontez Stitt.

To nobody's surprise, Johnson thought it was one of his better games as well.

"It really was. You know you can't be scared coming out here in the ACC," he said. "My confidence is high and I'm settling in here a little bit."

And while the freshman thinks of himself as an offensive scorer, again, it was his defense that kept him on the floor for most of the second half.

"I think I played real good in the second half- especially on defense and that's something coach has been stressing to me," Johnson said. "He's been telling me that all week in practice - 'don't be a liability.' Tonight I really got after it."

Still, by the end of the season, the Tigers are going to also need his offense at some point.

With the losses of sharp-shooters Terrence Oglesby and K.C. Rivers the Tigers have struggled at times from long-range through the early stages of the season.

And with a tough stretch of games coming up with No. 9 North Carolina, road contests at Georgia Tech and N.C. State before No. 7 Duke comes to Littlejohn on Jan. 23, Clemson needs all the help it can get.

"That's what they brought me here to do," Johnson added. "That's why I signed my letter of intent here at Clemson. But whatever coach Purnell wants me to do is what I'll do - offense, defense whatever. Tonight it was defense."

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