Aggressive Defiance

NEW YORK – Clemson's ability to score quickly could have West Virginia on its heels in the NIT finals at 7 p.m. tonight – the worst place it could possibly be.

The Tigers' transition offense was listed as scoring just four points. But the break created many more opportunities that were capitalized upon, and Clemson (25-10) managed 24 points off turnovers, many coming from the backcourt when it had runouts after forcing one of its 11 turnovers. West Virginia (26-9) must limit these chances, especially off missed threes that would allow for longer rebounds. The Mountaineers missed 16 of 23 threes in the semifinal win over Mississippi State, allowing the Bulldogs multiple points via quick runs down the floor.

"Don't blow the assignment of getting back on defense," West Virginia's Alex Ruoff said of how to slow the cat-like Tiger quickness. "That would be the short answer."

West Virginia, too, might consider applying pressure of their own at opportune moments in the game. Air Force went to a press midway through the second half that jettisoned it back into the game from down eight. Clemson didn't handle the pressure, an aspect lacking in many teams that like to harass others, then don't take it well on the flip side. The Mountaineers appear to be set-up oppositely. They don't pressure often – the lone team comparable to Clemson's athleticism that was pressed by WVU was Arkansas in the Old Spice Classic in November – but have handled heat well, rarely exceeding single digits in turnovers.

"We lost our focus a little bit," Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell said of Air Force's pressure. "Maybe we were a little tired. At that point, you have to push through with mental toughness and focus. We didn't have it. … They made a run and got the game even. That's when our guys showed their mettle."

Clemson rallied back, taking the lead for good at 53-51 with 6:25 left after the Falcons pieced together a 14-2 run to tie it at 51-51. It hit three 3-pointers and two breakout shots, a lay-up and jumper, over the next four-plus minutes to secure the game. Air Force couldn't get back in time on the two shots, and on the lay-up, by point guard Vernon Hamilton, failed to cut off the ball coming own the floor.

"That's the first thing I look for," WVU point guard Darris Nichols said. "Where my man is, if we're in man, and to stop the ball. I just want to make them change direction or slow it enough where my teammates can get back and help me."

Nichols and Ruoff will be matched against Hamilton and Clemson shooting guard Cliff Hammonds. The duo average a combined 24 points and are built for explosion, Hamilton being 6-0 and 195 pounds and Hammonds at 6-3 and 197. They are good leapers and will showcase the same type of guard play MSU utilized, though without as much skill handling the ball. When Nichols or Ruoff drive, Frank Young is typically the player who rotates back, meaning it won't always be a guard vs. guard setup if the Tigers push.

"I'm trying to see where the ball is," Young said of his defensive responsibilities. "If Darris or Al drive to the basket, they will not be back to stop the ball. That's the main thing. The other will be getting back into the three zone, if we can, and picking up the ball early. They will push and challenge us. It will be a little prep getting ready. In the man, we did a good job of getting back (versus MSU) and making sure they did not get any easy lanes to the basket."

Note: Beilein took a firm stance when asked if his obviously media underrated starting point guard was indeed underrated overall.

"Not by me," Beilein said. "I don't know. I don't know what others think. He plays 35 minutes per game. He is a team-first guy, but those, to the press and others, well, to coaches he is not. By people who know basketball, he is not underrated. He is appreciated."

Clemson will try to win its first postseason tournament of any kind - league play included - since it captured the 1939 Southern Conference championship. WVU last won a title in 1984, when it gained three victories in the Atlantic-10 Tournament.

Note: Beilein took a firm stance when asked if his obviously media underrated starting point guard was indeed underrated overall.

"Not by me," Beilein said. "I don't know. I don't know what others think. He plays 35 minutes per game. He is a team-first guy, but those, to the press and others, well, to coaches he is not. By people who know basketball, he is not underrated. He is appreciated."


BlueGoldNews Top Stories