Clemson has finished off another perfect November, and was able to overcome the absence of injured star James Mays to get its latest win.
The 18th-ranked Tigers hope to again overcome Mays’ absence when they open December against in-state rival South Carolina on Saturday at Littlejohn Coliseum.
Clemson (6-0) defeated Purdue 61-58 on Tuesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, as K.C. Rivers hit a floater with 31.2 seconds to go to break a 58-all tie. Rivers finished with 18 points and a season-high 12 rebounds, helping the Tigers improve to 19-0 in the last three Novembers.
“Without Mays,” Rivers said, “I had to fill the void.”
Mays, who is averaging 14.8 points and 8.6 rebounds this season, fell hard on his hip in last Saturday’s 96-67 win over Gardner-Webb. He said before Wednesday’s game he was diagnosed with a fracture and expected to miss four to six weeks.
However, bone scans revealed Mays’ hip is sprained, not fractured, and on Wednesday, Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said the 6-foot-9 senior forward may be able to play before the end of December.
“We are obviously encouraged by the results of James’ bone scans,” Purnell said.
The last time Clemson lost Mays was the 2005-06 season, when it opened 11-0 with him in the lineup. The Tigers then lost five of their next seven after he was declared academically ineligible.
“I think we are a better team today than we were two years ago when we were without him,” Purnell said. “It is tough to lose him, but we improve each year.”
Rivers, a junior, has been stepping up for the Tigers, averaging a team-high 15.5 points and 7.3 rebounds.
Clemson is also winning with its stingy defense. It leads the ACC in turnovers forced at 23.0 per game and is third in the conference in scoring defense, allowing an average of 60.5 points.
The Tigers limited the Boilermakers to 2-of-12 shooting from 3-point range, and they may need a similar defensive effort Saturday because the Gamecocks are among the nation’s leaders in 3-point shooting at 47.4 percent (65-of-137).
South Carolina (4-3) hit a school-record 16 3-pointers on Wednesday as it defeated Campbell 92-52.
In the first half, the Gamecocks had nine 3-pointers and eight two-point baskets to lead 45-25 at the break. In all, they put up 28 shots from behind the arc on Wednesday.
“The shots were coming easy on the perimeter,” South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. “When we shoot that well, it has a way of building momentum in the course of the game.”
South Carolina sophomore guard Brandis Raley-Ross came off the bench for the first time all season on Wednesday and gave the Gamecocks a big lift, scoring a career-high 20 points and making 6-of-7 from 3-point range. Raley-Ross is shooting 69.6 percent (16-of-23) from beyond the arc on the season.
Last season, the Tigers did a stellar job of shutting down the Gamecocks’ perimeter shooting, holding them to 1-of-13 from 3-point range in a 74-53 victory.
Clemson has won three straight over South Carolina since a 76-61 home defeat on Dec. 6, 2003. The Gamecocks own an 86-71 advantage in the all-time series.
South Carolina has lost nine straight regular-season games against ranked opponents, and 61 of its last 65 against Top 25 teams. The Gamecocks also have lost 31 of their last 32 road games against ranked teams.
The Tigers, meanwhile, have won 35 of their last 36 games against nonconference opponents at home.