CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) -- K.C. Rivers has seen big leads for Clemson
disappear in the past couple of seasons. He wasn't about to let it
happen again against the No. 18 Tigers' bitter in-state rival.
Rivers scored 17 of his 24 points in the second half, twice
hitting key baskets to stop Gamecocks runs, and Clemson beat South
Carolina 85-74 on Saturday.
"I saddled it up and got on a run for a second. Then we put
them away with free throws," said Rivers, who later pointed out the
Tigers hit nine of their final 10 foul shots.
Clemson is 7-0 for the third straight season and has beaten the
Gamecocks four times in a row.
"It feels good to finish my career never losing to South
Carolina," said senior Cliff Hammonds, who added 13 points.
The Tigers never trailed and had a 19-point lead early in the
second half. But the Gamecocks (4-4) kept battling back, trailing
75-67 after Devan Downey's driving bucket with 2:46 to go.
On the next possession, Demontez Stitt came out of a scrum with
the ball and an easy layup for the Tigers, and after forcing Downey
into a bad shot, Rivers found an open lane to the basket and dunked
to put Clemson ahead 79-67 and begin the chants of "Just like
football!" -- a reminder of the Gamecocks' 23-21 loss last weekend
in the biggest rivalry game in this state.
Poor shooting and bad defense at times did South Carolina in.
The Gamecocks made just one of eight 3-pointers in the first half
and trailed by 17.
Brandis Raley-Ross hit three 3-pointers in the first 4:10 of the
second half to help South Carolina from falling even more behind.
But Clemson would score on its first seven possessions of the half,
all on dunks or lay-ups, to increase its lead by two.
The Gamecocks would eventually make a run, cutting their deficit to
nine at 60-51 after Zam Fredrick's layup with just under 10 minutes
At that point, Rivers said he thought about the games the Tigers
have blown after big leads. "I can't help things like that lurking
in my mind."
So he decided to do something about it, burying an open
3-pointer and after missing a second open 3, making a short jumper
to put Clemson ahead 65-51 with 8:19 left.
Fredrick led all scorers with 28 points, while Downey added 19.
It was a frustrating loss for a South Carolina team looking for
a marquee win. Coming in, the Gamecocks had played well against
three teams with a good chance of making the NCAA Tournament -- Southern Cal, George Mason and North Carolina State -- but lost
because of spotty play late.
In this one, the start did them in. South Carolina came out
flat, frustrating coach Dave Odom who before the game came out of
character a bit when he told reporters the losing streak to Clemson
was getting "under my skin" and this one, nonconference contest
was a "very important" game.
The irritation spilled over in the second half as Odom got
called for a technical. He said after the game he wasn't trying to
fire the team up.
"You get frustrated when you aren't playing well. I can't say
officials make you play bad. You get frustrated because of your own
play," Odom said.
Clemson coach Oliver Purnell isn't as vocal about the importance
of the rivalry, but Rivers said he told his players before the game
South Carolina was going to come out looking for a fight and
"we're going to give them a fight." He also sent a message to the
fans through his wardrobe, wearing a bright orange coat instead of
his usual subtle tones.
The Tigers came out running and pressing, making four of their
first five shots and forcing three turnovers in the three minutes
to take a 10-2 lead.
The Gamecocks settled down for a bit, but Dominique Archie got a
technical arguing a foul call. Stitt hit both free throws for the
Tigers and Rivers followed with a 3-pointer. On the next
possession, Booker muscled inside for a basket and Clemson was
Raley-Ross then threw a pass and the crowd roared. But it wasn't
the biggest cheer of the game. That came at halftime, when football
coach Tommy Bowden came out in orange pants with white tiger paws
and accepted a trophy for beating the Gamecocks last weekend.