Clemson vs. Illinois, Another Look

A big game like Clemson vs. Illinois deserves more attention than just a game story. Two excellent teams fought tooth and nail to secure a victory for themselves and their conferences amidst an electric atmosphere. Clemson Coach Oliver Purnell and three participants in the titanic struggle rehashed the game in the postgame press conference.

Oliver Purnell had a lot to share after the game. Among other things, he provided an overview from Clemson's perspective.

"Demontez Stitt was obviously big for us for getting the ball in the lane and giving us some easy opportunities. He did a good job defensively and was a pest out there as well. He's doing more of that this year (breaking people down) because he's a sophomore.

"We have things designed for him where he can kind of go off of a shooter. If they don't pick him up, he can take it all the way or, if they get in the lane or come off the shooter, he can find him. We have a roll series where we set (Trevor) Booker high, and he and Book play pick and roll. He showed some stuff last year, and we need to get more of that this year.

"I think the last 6 minutes we did what we like to do at the end of the game. We got the ball into Booker alot, we defended and we didn't turn the ball over. We said before the game if it came down to the last 6 minutes, the advantage was to us.

"The press has a tendency to wear teams down. We're trying to play 9-10 players, and we try to make the opposition work 94 feet both ways. A lot of times in the second half, you'll see that happen, dying on the vine.

"We said before the game we'd be happy if it came down to the end. If we allowed them to run offense, control the ball and that type of thing, they score in the 50's. We like more of an uptempo transition game, shoot layups. We want to get the ball inside the paint to Booker to give us some offensive control, and I thought that was the difference.

"A key for us was we went small with (David) Potter and (K. C.) Rivers with about 6 minutes to play, and with Booker at the center. I thought that was hard for them to guard as well.

"We weren't very happy as a coaching staff at halftime. I felt physically they dominated us some, particularly on the backboards. You just can't allow that to happen in a season-long situation. But sometimes you just have to find a way. Two or three times this year this club has done that, and so has Illinois."

Purnell was asked what he thought of Illinois' Mike Davis.

"He's active. He got some off the offensive glass, he got some at the back end of our press. Our press is high risk high reward. And he's a runner, he can really run. He was running down the back side or down the middle, and he got some easy things. And he's a quick jumper on the offensive glass. He's having a nice year. He can make that 16-17 foot shot, and he can really get to the board like a pogo stick."

Demontez Stitt was asked about his ability to penetrate at will late in the game.

"I saw at the beginning of the game we were able to attack. In timeouts, the coaches told me to attack the lane. We're a running team, and if we run and I beat my man, we can get open shots. I was able to get into the lane because our guys occupied their men."

Demetri McCamey described the last 11.1 seconds and the play he was trying to execute.

"Coach drew up a play for me to come off a ball screen to try to get the flair (to Trent Meacham), but Clemson did a good job. They switched it and got their bigs out, and we couldn't get a shot off in time."

Asked if he would do anything differently if he got the chance again, McCamey was noncommittal.

"Whatever Coach said. Whether to assist, shoot or whatever, just make the best decision at that time. I saw Chester open. I thought he was gonna flair into the corner."

Mike Davis of Illinois jumped in quickly to defend his beleaguered point guard.

"They tried to double team Demetri quick, so he couldn't get it to Trent. So he got it to Chester, and he couldn't get a shot in time."

McCamey returned the favor by paying Davis a compliment.

"Mike is a big-time player. We know we have to find him in transition so he can get that baseline jumper he always knocks down. We have to get him the ball."

Demetri was asked why Clemson's defense was more effective in the second half.

"They backed it up to half court. Everytime the guards thought it was man-to-man, they came and trapped. They made it real difficult as they were real aggressive.

"Number 2 (Stitt) is a real aggressive player. They put him on me to try to slow me down. They were conscious wherever I went. The big guys tried to bump me a little bit. They just tried to do things to slow me down."

McCamey also discussed why Clemson got so many close shots on goal.

"They were running back screens, and it was real difficult to defend. We were trying to corral it, but he (Stitt) did some nice moves and got to the basket and made good decisions."

Davis first met Oliver Purnell when he was being recruited. He said they had a brief conversation before the game.

"The coach talked to me a little bit before the game. He just told me to have a good game and play hard and see who wins."

Mike praised Clemson big man Trevor Booker.

"Trevor Booker is a big guy and top player. He goes in and rebounds and pushes off the back. You've got to be strong and fight him in the post. We couldn't always trap him, so me, Dominique (Keller), Rich (Semrau) and Mike Tisdale had to fight him hard."

Davis was reluctant to admit the Clemson press wore out Illinois or got it out of its rhythm.

"It can, but I don't think it did. They messed us up a little bit a couple of times. Once Demetri comes down, we ran our stuff and we scored. When they set us up, we took bad shots sometimes."

Davis and the Illini wanted this win badly, but they came up short. Mike and his teammates may have actually gained confidence with the way they played against a top team, but in the short term, the loss is still painful.

"It's always tough to lose on your own court. When we come this close, it's even more."

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