CLEMSON, S.C. (AP)—K.C. Rivers saw Clemson’s dwindling lead over Presbyterian and quickly thought back to his freshman year when the Tigers fell to Elon.
Rivers made sure the same thing didn’t happen to Clemson on Wednesday night.
Rivers had 11 of his 18 points in the second half and the 24th-ranked Tigers (4-0) held off Presbyterian 74-57.
The Blue Hose, in their first Division I season, had lost all five of their games coming into Littlejohn Coliseum, yet cut a 15-point lead to 56-53 with 7:26 remaining.
That’s when Rivers said he remembered two years ago, when the Tigers fell at home to Elon, 74-69.
“This can’t happen again. This is a veteran ballclub,” Rivers said he thought. “This is the team with our experience, our leadership and our veteran players, we got to come together.”
Rivers showed the way. He scored the next five points and led Clemson on a 10-2 run the next two minutes that put the game away.
“We had to scramble for our lives there in the second half,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said.
The Tigers got 14 points from Cliff Hammonds and 13 from James Mays to improve to 17-0 their past three Novembers.
Clemson is 22-1 in November during Purnell’s five seasons. It’s lone loss in that stretch came Nov. 29, 2004, 79-70 to Boston College.
Clemson hit just 2 of its first 11 3-pointers, committed 20 turnovers and went to the foul line just once in the first 30 minutes against the smaller Blue Hose (0-6).
“We’re going to have play much better than that if we want to consider us a good team,” Purnell said.
The Tigers finally seemed to have the game in hand, ahead 53-38 after James Mays and Trevor Booker converted three-point plays.
But behind the long-range shooting of senior Pat Kiscaden, Presbyterian made a final run.
Kiscaden came into the game an incredible 23-of-36 (63.9 percent) from 3-point range in Presbyterian’s first five games.
He made his fourth 3-pointer of the game to cut things to 53-47, then added a rare 2-pointer—Kiscaden was just 2-of-4 from inside the arc this season—to bring the Blue Hose within 4 points. Kiscaden finished with 16 points, hitting 4-of-8 from 3-point range.
Al’Lonzo Coleman, who scored 18 points, added a pair of foul shots and a basket to pull Presbyterian within 56-53, its closest second-half margin.
“They’re an ACC team. I’m sure they weren’t shaking in their boots,” Kiscaden said, laughing. “We felt good we could put a run on them. We didn’t expect them to fold over by any means.”
Rivers made sure the Tigers didn’t collapse.
The Tigers moved into the rankings this week. But whether it was the sparse crowd, the thought of a holiday dinner or the campus’ overwhelming focus on the football team’s upcoming matchup with rival South Carolina, Clemson didn’t look ready to take on the Blue Hose, playing their first Division I season.
“I believe it was our mentality,” Rivers said. “We came out with the attitude, ‘They’re Presbyterian. We’re Clemson and they’re going to lay down.’ No, watching games on TV, nobody’s laying down for anybody.”
Each time Clemson threatened to break things open, Presbyterian would scratch back.
Freshman Jerai Grant and Rivers had two baskets apiece during a 13-2 stretch that put the Tigers up 31-20. However, a drive by Bryan Bostic and two foul shots by Coleman cut the margin.
Clemson went ahead 36-24 on a dunk by Trevor Booker and Rivers’ 3-pointer. But buckets by Coleman and Travis Sligh made it 36-28 at the half.
The Tigers forced Presbyterian into 15 first-half turnovers, yet committed 12 of their own.
“They just had too many guns for us down the stretch,” Presbyterian coach Gregg Nibert said.
That’s the case for much of Presbyterian’s first full Division I season.
The Blue Hose have already lost at Nebraska and New Mexico. In the next two months, they’ll face Ohio State, Georgia, Wake Forest, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech and Auburn.
“It’s incredible,” Nibert said. “I get chill bumps everytime we walk into a place like this.”