Clemson University

Tigers are nearing must-win territory

CLEMSON - Oliver Purnell was asked Tuesday if he has had to resist leaning on the Tigers' hot hand in hopes of thawing the offense's deep freeze.

The Clemson coach was perplexed. "Well, who would that be?" he asked.

Clemson (16-6, 4-5 ACC) has lost four of its past five games due to widespread offensive failings.

The Clemson offense - second to last in field-goal percentage and scoring in ACC play - meets the league's best defense tonight at Littlejohn Coliseum.

Florida State is tops in blocked shots (6.7 per game), field-goal defense (36.8 percent) and second in scoring defense (61.1 ppg.) in conference play. The Tigers have shot below 32 percent in their past two games.

"It's an imposing front line," Purnell said of the Seminoles' frontcourt. "In their team defense they are awfully hard to score on, and right now with us struggling offensively, it really is a challenge for us."

The Seminoles (17-6, 5-4) possess the tallest front line in the league, highlighted by 7-foot-1 center Solomon Alabi and 6-9 small forward Chris Singleton. The pair rank second and fifth in the ACC in blocks respectively.

Purnell concedes the Tigers have struggled to make open shots in addition to poor shot selection at times.

That's especially troubling for Clemson tonight, when some of those open looks might disappear because Alabi has the size to bother Trevor Booker in one-on-one situations. The majority of opponents consistently have double-teamed Booker, daring Clemson's guards to beat them from the perimeter. And Booker - whom Purnell said has to run the floor with more urgency - has been held to point totals of 12, 10 and seven in Clemson's past three games.

Despite all those open looks, and Booker's exceptional passing ability, Clemson is shooting 25.6 percent from beyond the arc in ACC play - worst in the ACC.

"We are really going to have to move the ball and move them defensively," Clemson wing Tanner Smith said. "We can't allow them to be stationary and play in spots and be able to close off driving lanes."

Making matters worse is point guard and second-leading scorer Demontez Stitt is still not 100 percent.

Purnell believes Stitt was shaking off some rust during a three-point, 1-of-6 shooting effort against Virginia Tech in his return from a mid-foot sprain.

But Stitt said Tuesday he is not getting the "lift" he normally does, and he can't cut as sharply as he would at full health.

The junior said he will have to alter his offensive game: more jump shots, fewer drives.

Purnell hopes the team plays with the defensive energy it did in its home win against Maryland. But Clemson shot 31.9 percent form the floor in that game, which Purnell acknowledges is not a sustainable formula for victory.

The Tigers are running out of time to fix their offense.

In the period of three weeks, the Clemson has gone from entertaining thoughts of contending for an ACC crown to hoping it can hang on for a third consecutive NCAA bid.

The Tigers open a three-game homestand tonight, and they acknowledge they are nearing must-win territory. Following the homestand, Clemson has three difficult road trips remaining: Maryland, Florida State and Wake.

From the ACC, only Maryland made the NCAA tournament last season with a losing conference mark. The Tigers hope to avoid being in the similar position of having to sweat out a bid.