Dealing with an injury to star forward James Mays hasn’t slowed Clemson in its past two games. If it can win once more without him, Mays could be ready to return when his undefeated team hits the court again.
The 18th-ranked Tigers look to start 8-0 for the third straight year as they play their third in a row without Mays on Wednesday night at East Carolina.
Mays came down hard on his hip in Clemson’s 96-67 win over Gardner-Webb on Nov. 24 and has missed the past two games, wins over Purdue and South Carolina. Through the Tigers’ first five games, the 6-foot-9 Mays was averaging 14.8 points and 8.6 rebounds while leading the ACC with 3.4 steals per game. He’s also second on the team in assists with 3.4 per contest.
Though Mays will miss this game, he has a chance to be back in the lineup when Clemson plays its next game - Dec. 20 in the San Juan Shootout.
But while he’s been out, his teammates have stepped up.
Junior K.C. Rivers has averaged 21.0 points and 10.0 rebounds in the past two contests and leads the team with 16.7 points per game.
Sophomore center Trevor Booker, who has started in place of Mays, needs just one blocked shot to move past former NBA All-Star Larry Nance into eighth place on Clemson’s all-time list. He’s played 43 games as opposed to Nance’s 117, but isn’t just a defensive threat. Booker scored 15 points and grabbed 11 boards in Saturday’s 85-74 victory over South Carolina.
“This win says something about experience and depth,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. “In the (Purdue) game, our experience was a big factor. (Against South Carolina) there was a tremendous pace during the game, and we used nine different players effectively. This means our roster will be even deeper when James (gets back).”
Along with Rivers, Cliff Hammonds has been a steadying force for Clemson. The senior is averaging 12.1 points, 4.3 assists and 4.1 rebounds.
Hammonds has played in 107 games in his Clemson career and started 106 of them. He ranks in the top 10 in Tiger history in eight categories, including games started, steals, 3-pointers and assists. He was particularly pleased with beating the Gamecocks, Clemson’s in-state rivals.
“It feels good to finish my career never losing to South Carolina,” said Hammonds, who went 4-0 against the Gamecocks.
East Carolina (3-4) is another team Hammonds hasn’t lost to. The point guard was just an 18-year-old freshman when he started the Tigers’ only previous meeting with the Pirates, a 74-40 Clemson win on Dec. 29, 2004. Hammonds had five points and four assists.
The Pirates will be hosting an ACC opponent for the first time in almost 40 years on Wednesday, and will be looking for their first win against a ranked opponent since beating Dwyane Wade and No. 9 Marquette on Dec. 30, 2002.
It had been seven games, dating to a Feb. 24 victory over UTEP, since East Carolina had knocked off a Division I opponent before a surprising 68-65 win over George Mason on Sunday. The Pirates’ previous two wins in 2007-08 were against Division II Limestone and Division III North Carolina Wesleyan.
James Legan had a career-high 18 points and Darrell Jenkins had a double-double with 11 points and 10 assists as East Carolina earned a surprising win over a team that had already beaten Kansas State and South Carolina.
Sophomore Gabe Blair leads the Pirates in scoring (10.4) and rebounding (8.3), while Jenkins scores 10.0 points per game and averages a team-best 6.7 assists.