CLEMSON - Trevor Booker found himself surrounded by media beneath Littlejohn Coliseum after the Tigers' 74-66 victory against Miami. The frontcourt star is accustomed to dealing with congestion on the court this season.
But a funny thing happened against the Hurricanes on Saturday. Booker saw traffic lighten as Miami vacated its zone defense for more man-to-man sets.
After setting their ACC high this season with eight 3-pointers against Florida State, Clemson busted the Miami zone with 9-of-21 shooting from behind the arc Saturday to move above .500 in ACC play.
The once ice-cold Tigers (18-7, 6-5) have suddenly become proficient from long range and no one is more pleased than Booker, who scored a game-high 18 points. He had been held to 30 points the previous three games.
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"As long as we are knocking down shots, we'll be (OK)," Booker said. "Teams are going to have to start defending us differently."
The Tigers also made 23-of-31 free throws, with seven coming in the final two minutes to hold off Miami (17-8, 3-8).
Before their current two-game win streak, the Tigers were shooting 25 percent on 3's in ACC play (last in the league), and entered Saturday 11th in the ACC in free throw shooting (65.3 percent).
Said Demontez Stitt of the recent hot shooting: "I don't think it is a surprise to us as it is to everybody else."
Clemson coach Oliver Purnell was especially pleased with how the 3s came - via wide-open attempts from inside-out play and moving the Miami defenders.
These were the same offensive tenants he has stressed all season, leading him to say after the win that he feels like "one big cliche."
"I think our 3's were more critical this game because Miami plays so much zone," Purnell said. "Sooner or later, we have to hit our shots or the zone starts to shrink. If we're going to make them, it's going to be off of penetration or feeding it inside."
Of course it won't always be so easy. Miami plays more zone than most ACC teams, and zone defenses allow for more open 3-pointers.
Also, seven of the 3s came from Clemson point guards Demontez Stitt and Andre Young.
Stitt and Young played 20 minutes together Saturday, the second straight game the duo has logged 20-plus minutes together. They averaged 14.7 minutes of play together in ACC play prior to Clemson's two-game winning streak.
But there are defensive liabilities by playing such a small backcourt, and Miami's sharp-shooting guards were able to shoot above the 5-foot-9 Young on several occasions. Stitt also makes for an undersized shooting guard.
Still, just as a trio of Young 3's opened up the game against Florida State, back to back 3's by Young and Milton Jennings helped created a 10-point cushion for Clemson with 6:55 to play Saturday.
The shooting created enough space for Clemson to hold on after Miami cut the Clemson lead to 67-63 with 45 seconds to play.
If the Tigers can sustain their shooting touch, that will create more space for Booker - and more margin for error in the Tigers' NCAA tourney hopes.
Said Purnell: "I don't believe there have been two bigger games than the past two we've played."