on December 1, 2007 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Tigers, Gamecocks appreciate rivalry game

CLEMSON — Clemson guard Cliff Hammonds remembers when he fully understood how important the South Carolina game was.

The Tigers trailed South Carolina late in Columbia during his freshman year, and he remembers how the seniors were encouraging the team to stay focused and not to hang their heads after star player Sharrod Ford fouled out in the closing moments.

“It didn’t take me too long to appreciate it,” said Hammonds, who played his high school basketball in Cairo, Ga.

With the help of Hammonds’ 17 points, Clemson eventually forced overtime without Ford, and then guard Cheyenne Moore drained a basket in the closing seconds to lift the Tigers to an improbable 63-62 victory. At the time, it was Clemson’s first victory against the Gamecocks in five years.

“I remember telling Sharrod when he fouled out that ‘we were going to get this game,’” Hammonds said.

Since then the 18th-ranked Tigers have owned South Carolina. Clemson beat USC 82-63 in 2006 and then 74-53 last year. And Hammonds and his teammates would love nothing more than to keep that streak alive when they host the Gamecocks (4-3) today at 4 p.m. in Littlejohn Coliseum.

“We try to treat this just as another game, but it is what it is,” Hammonds said. “This is a rivalry game. You are going to be pumped up for this game. You don’t want them to have bragging rights for a whole year.

“We only play them once just like they do in football… We don’t have to have the coaches give us a rah-rah speech. We are all going to be ready for this game and they’re going to be the same way.”

The Gamecocks might be a little more motivated considering they’re playing for the Columbia school’s honor as well. It has just been a week since the Clemson football team edged USC with a last second field goal from kicker Mark Buchholz.

“I know some people talked about how that probably motivated us after they beat us here last year in football, and I guess there was a time when we did think about that, but once you get on the floor that doesn’t really matter,” Clemson guard K.C. Rivers said. “It comes down to which basketball team is ready to play. If that motivates them to play harder, then we have to be ready to play and understand that we know we are going to get their best.”

Right now, USC’s basketball team just wants to get a win against Clemson.

“Obviously, our basketball team has not had a lot of success against them in the last three years,” South Carolina head coach Dave Odom said. “That’s under my skin. … Really when you look at it, I don’t think anybody on our team has beaten Clemson. So, you know, it’s a big game.”

The Gamecocks would also just like to get another win. Though USC beat Campbell by 40 points Wednesday night, they have lost three of their last five games.

“I want our team to play well … and look like they know what they’re doing,” Odom said. “But I want them to win. That is the key.”

Sophomore forward Brandis Raley-Ross is also feeling pressure from his classmates, who told him: “Don’t do what the football team has done.”

South Carolina lost the football game on a last-second field goal. For the basketball team, too, the close games have gone to the other team – a two-point loss to North Carolina State and a one-point loss to George Mason at the Old Spice Classic in Florida last week.

“We want to show people we can win the close games,” Raley-Ross said.

Clemson (6-0) has proved it can win close games. The Tigers won at Mississippi State 84-82 earlier in the month, and then rallied back to beat Purdue Tuesday night, 61-58, in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge.

“We took a lot out of that game,” Rivers said. “It took a lot for us to first stay in that game and then to find a way to win it. It’s a game we can learn a lot from and it’s a game where we came together as a team and got the job done.”

The Tigers will have to have the same effort today. They will again be without their second-leading scorer James Mays, who is averaging 15.5 points and 7.3 rebounds. Mays is expected to be out with a hip sprain at least until Dec. 20.

Going without Mays will be a tough task considering the improved guard play from the Gamecocks this year in transfers Devan Downey and Zam Fredrick.

“Any time you have a better backcourt, you have a better team most of the time,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. “Certainly they are going through some growing pains as they develop their team, but I’ve seen them play awfully well during stretches this season.

“I think they’re going to be a great basketball team. I hope they aren’t (today).”

— The Associated Press contributed to this story