Clemson coach Oliver Purnell admits he’s a little nervous about how his team will handle its perfect record.
The 23rd-ranked Tigers look to extend their best start in 20 years when they host Georgia Tech on Saturday.
Clemson (15-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) is one of only two teams in the nation, along with top-ranked UCLA, without a loss this season. The Tigers are off to their best start since the 1986-87 team set a school record by opening 17-0.
However, Purnell, Clemson’s fourth-year coach, doesn’t want all of that success getting to his players’ heads.
“We’re in rarefied air now,” he said. “The higher you go, the air gets thinner. You start losing oxygen to the brain in those situations.”
The Tigers got a scare in their most recent victory, a 68-66 win at Florida State in their ACC opener on Wednesday. Cliff Hammonds hit the game-winning layup with just three seconds left.
“It’s huge for us, being 1-0 in the conference,” said Vernon Hamilton, who had a team-high 19 points. “It’s going to be games like this every night. You’ve got to grind these games out.”
K.C. Rivers, who leads the Tigers with 14.6 points per game, had 16 against the Seminoles, while James Mays added 14.
“It’s important to remind our players why we’re 15-0. And if we want it to continue, we have to do the same kinds of things,” Purnell said. “If we stop that, we’ll stop winning. It’s that simple.”
Clemson has gone at least 9-0 three times in the last five seasons. The Tigers opened 11-0 last year, but lost center James Mays for academic reasons and dropped 10 of the next 13.
The Tigers have not opened their ACC schedule 2-0 since the 1996-97 season.
“No one’s predicting ACC championships or going 16-0 in the league,” Hammonds said. “But we know we have to come out with the same hard edge we have this season so we can be in every battle and pull out the close games.”
The Yellow Jackets (11-3, 0-1) are coming off Wednesday’s 97-46 victory over Winston-Salem State and have won five straight overall after consecutive losses at Miami and Vanderbilt. Anthony Morrow scored all of his season-high 21 points from 3-point range, as he went 7-for-11 from beyond the arc.
However, coach Paul Hewitt expects Wednesday’s win could be the last easy one for a while.
“From here on out, as I told the guys last night, every game is a one-possession game,” Hewitt said. “You don’t know which possession it will be, but you have to win every one of them. You can make an argument that our next five games in the ACC are against the toughest teams.”
Guard Lewis Cinch, who ranks third on the team with 13.2 points per game, was suspended for the rest of the season Friday for an unspecified violation of school policy.
Georgia Tech leads the all-time series between the teams 55-52. Clemson swept both meetings with the Yellow Jackets last season, ending a five-game losing streak in the series.