Clemson University

Clemson draws Michigan in NCAA tournament

Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell applauds his team during the first half against Georgia Tech in an NCAA college basketball game at the Atlantic Coast Conference men's tournament in Atlanta, Thursday, March 12, 2009.
Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell applauds his team during the first half against Georgia Tech in an NCAA college basketball game at the Atlantic Coast Conference men's tournament in Atlanta, Thursday, March 12, 2009.

SENECA | Clemson didn't look like an NCAA team in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament last week. So coach Oliver Purnell made sure to turn the Tigers back into one the past few days.

Purnell and his players will face 10th-seeded Michigan in an opening-round game Thursday at the NCAA tournament's South Region in Kansas City, Mo.

The Tigers cheered and clapped at Purnell's lakefront home Sunday when their names popped up on the screen. They might've been just as glad to get a break from their difficult practice schedule.

Clemson lost its opening-round ACC game to last-place Georgia Tech. When they returned home Friday morning, Purnell brought the team into its meeting room to air out grievances and complaints. Then, the team hit the court to fix what had gone wrong the past two weeks.

"I would say they were spirited and energetic," Purnell said.

A little spirit seemed like just what the Tigers need.

They opened 16-0 and stood 19-2 after thumping Duke 74-47, the Blue Devils' worst defeat in 19 years.

But Clemson lost its footing, dropping six of its final 10 games. It has won only once in the past three weeks.

"There's definitely a chip on our shoulder," guard K.C. Rivers said.

Terrence Oglesby, Clemson's top long-range threat, said the Tiger meetings were about "constructive criticism."

Players could talk about anything as long as they were prepared to leave it in the locker room and get back to work.

"I think things have gone really well the past few days," he said.

Rivers, a senior, liked the intensity he saw at practice. "It's definitely picked up," he said.

Clemson will certainly have its hands full in Kansas City. Should it get past Michigan — a team that also topped Duke this year — Blake Griffin and highly regarded Oklahoma could be waiting on Saturday.

"It's not going to be easy," said Trevor Booker, Clemson's leading scorer.

Clemson returned to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season, something that hadn't happened since Rick Barnes led the Tigers to three straight trips from 1996-98.

Clemson's players, coaches and staffers gathered in Purnell's furnished basement, lounging in the coach's cushy black chairs in his home theater.

The Tigers sat through much of the selection show awaiting their destination and opponent. When Clemson was finally flashed, Purnell started the applause while the players jumped up to congratulate each other.

"This says everything about the progress of this program," said Purnell, Clemson's sixth year coach. "It wasn't took long ago we couldn't sit here as a lock or on the bubble."

Rivers, a senior, was confident the Tigers had gotten past their downturn and will head to the NCAAs with their earlier style and passion.

"We're writing our own script," Rivers said. "We don't listen to the peanut gallery or the naysayers. It's about the guys in that room."

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