Despite playing a demanding early-season schedule, unbeaten Clemson hadn’t cracked the Top 25 until this week. A loss to their next opponent would certainly make the Tigers’ stay in the rankings a short one.
The No. 25 Tigers look to remain undefeated Tuesday when they host winless North Florida, which is still seeking its first road win since moving to Division I three years ago.
Clemson (10-0) is used to getting off to fast starts, as it has won its first 10 games in each of the last three seasons. In 2007-08, the Tigers lost their 11th game, falling 85-82 to an unranked - but also undefeated - Mississippi team in the San Juan Shootout on Dec. 22. Clemson was ranked 15th at the time.
Game No. 11 isn’t nearly as imposing this time, as North Florida (0-7) appears to be an easy final opponent before the Tigers begin Atlantic Coast Conference play.
Clemson, which ranks among the nation’s leaders in RPI thanks to a strong early schedule including road games against Illinois and Charlotte, defeated South Carolina State 90-63 on Saturday. The Tigers led by as many as 30 points and shot 54.0 percent. K.C. Rivers scored 19 points and Trevor Booker added 18.
Rivers is second on Clemson in scoring, averaging 14.2 points, including a 32-point effort against Liberty on Dec. 7. On Saturday, the senior forward was 7 of 12 from the field and added six rebounds.
“K.C.’s had a really solid year,” said Clemson coach Oliver Purnell, whose team is shooting 50.8 percent from the field this season. “He didn’t shoot the ball well early, but he’s given us leadership and toughness all year. Now he’s starting to settle in offensively.”
After facing North Florida, the Tigers open the ACC portion of their schedule on Saturday against Miami.
“If we make some improvements on Tuesday, especially in rebounding, we’ll be ready for ACC play,” Purnell said. “Illinois helped with that, Charlotte helped with that, now we need to get better on Tuesday.”
Purnell’s team figures to have an easy time with the Ospreys, who return to the floor for the first time since an 89-55 loss to Belmont on Dec. 6. They shot 39.3 percent en route to their ninth straight defeat going back to last season.
“We just need to keep playing hard and carry over some of the intensity we showed today in our next game,” freshman guard Jordan Fair said.
Cortez Riley is the only North Florida player scoring in double figures with 13.9 points per game. North Florida is averaging 51.1 points on 34.8 percent shooting - both among the worst marks in the nation.
Since moving up to Division I in 2005-06, the Ospreys are 12-81 overall and 0-47 on the road.
This is the first-ever meeting between Clemson and North Florida. Both teams have faced Savannah State this season, with Clemson winning 81-49 while North Florida lost 75-60.