Clemson University

Tigers start key late-season stretch with Hokies

Clemson coach Oliver Purnell
Clemson coach Oliver Purnell

CLEMSON - Clemson traveled to Blacksburg, Va., on Thursday night - a day earlier than scheduled - to avoid the blizzard that slammed into the mid-Atlantic on Friday.

Clemson has another storm to weather in the coming weeks as it tries to secure its third straight NCAA berth.

The Tigers begin the second half of ACC play today against Virginia Tech (17-4, 4-3), the first of Clemson's remaining four road opponents - each with a conference record of .500 or better.

The Tigers (16-6, 4-4) might be forced to begin the stretch without Demontez Stitt, whose mid-foot sprain has improved. But the junior point guard remains questionable, and he has missed the past two games.

Stitt was able make it through three-quarters of practice Thursday, but Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said the Tigers will be fortunate to get 20 minutes today from Stitt, the team's second-leading scorer.

Not only has the Tigers' struggling offense missed Stitt's driving and passing ability and the depth he provides at point guard - backup Andre Young has played 76 of the past 80 minutes - but also they especially will miss his defense if he is limited or unable to play against the Hokies.

Virginia Tech features guard Malcolm Delaney, who leads the ACC in scoring (19.8 ppg) and is a multi-faceted offensive threat.

"He's got the green light," Purnell said. "He's terrific in transition or taking it to the hole. He can stop and pop, and he's a terrific free throw shooter. He can get points up in bunches.

"He presents a lot of problems. It's a tough road test."

He is joined in the backcourt by 6-foot-5 guard Dorenzo Hudson (13.7 ppg) and forward Jeff Allen, who gives the Hokies (11.7 ppg) a competent inside-outside game.

"Obviously, (Delaney) is a capable scorer," Purnell said. "But they are also very deep. They have a number of guys that are athletic and can flat out play."

With or without Stitt, Purnell is hoping the Tigers duplicate their defensive effort last time out against Maryland, snapping a three-game losing streak.

Clemson wings Tanner Smith and Noel Johnson held another elite ACC guard, Greivis Vasquez, to 10 points and forced the Terps' star into nine turnovers.

Maryland shot 34.6 percent from the floor.

"I was impressed with the stick-to-it-ive-ness, rebounding," said Purnell of the Maryland effort, "The real challenge is bringing the same mindset."

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