Clemson has a very strong history in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. That’s bad news for an Illinois squad that has dropped out of the Top 25 and hasn’t fared as well in this event.
The 18th-ranked Tigers look to continue their outstanding play in the Challenge on Wednesday night when they try to defeat the Illini for the second straight season.
Clemson (6-1) has won five straight games in this event, including 76-74 at Illinois (4-2) on Dec. 2, 2008. The Tigers are 8-2 all-time in Challenge games.
“We listen to what is being said,” coach Oliver Purnell said. “We want to win every competition, especially when there is conference bragging rights on the line. It’s great PR and great for recruiting if the conference comes out on top.”
Illinois fell to 3-7 in the Challenge with last season’s loss, including a 1-5 mark away from home. Making matters worse, the Illini will have to try to become just the second visiting team in 31 games to win at Clemson’s Littlejohn Coliseum.
Clemson rallied from a 40-32 halftime deficit to earn last season’s win at Illinois. The Tigers did it with defense, forcing the Illini to miss 6 of 8 shots in the final five minutes. Illinois failed to get a shot off on the final possession of the game.
Demontez Stitt scored 18 points and Trevor Booker had 16 in that contest, and both played well their last time out.
Stitt had 19 and Booker added 12 in a 70-69 win over then-No. 12 Butler on Sunday in the fifth-place game of the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif. Stitt made two free throws with 3.3 seconds remaining.
“I like having the ball in my hands at the end of the game,” Stitt said.
Booker had two blocks near the end of the game as Clemson erased a 12-point deficit. Booker only took nine shots, but his coach liked his work on the other end of the floor.
“He was allowed a lot of touches down the stretch, but his defensive mindset was there,” Purnell said. “If he’s any less than engaged, we have a chance to lose the game.”
Illinois was ranked No. 20 last week before suffering back-to-back losses in the Las Vegas Invitational. The Illini fell 60-58 to Utah on Friday and 72-68 in Saturday’s consolation game to local rival Bradley.
The Braves ended the game on an 11-2 run.
“We didn’t execute down the stretch,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “We had some shots. To (Bradley’s) credit, they made some shots. We have a long way to go. We have to learn from it. We’re a young team.”
Weber made his first lineup change of the season for Saturday’s game, inserting Alex Legion for freshman Brandon Paul. Legion had two points in seven minutes and Paul scored seven in 15 after making 1-of-7 shots for five points in the loss to the Utes.
Mike Davis led Illinois with 17 points on Saturday, and Clemson will no doubt be aware of him. Davis scored a career-high 28 in last season’s loss to the Tigers.