Clemson vs. Missouri: quick, get the oxygen!

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BUFFALO, N.Y. --- Break out the oxygen masks: "The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball" may be headed for warp speed.

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Missouri's Keith Ramsey takes a shot over teammate Laurence Bowers. The Tigers prepared Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y., to face Clemson today in the NCAA first round.  Mike Groll/Associated Press
Mike Groll/Associated Press
Missouri's Keith Ramsey takes a shot over teammate Laurence Bowers. The Tigers prepared Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y., to face Clemson today in the NCAA first round.

"I think we'll need them," said Clemson guard Demontez Stitt on Thursday as he contemplated facing Missouri in a first-round NCAA Tournament matchup of Tigers who keep attacking at a frenetic pace no matter what.

"It'll be as fast as everybody thinks," said Clemson coach Oliver Purnell.

Clemson (21-10), the seventh seed in the East, is making its third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and looking to give Purnell his breakthrough tournament triumph -- he's winless in five previous trips with three schools. Missouri (22-10), the 10th seed, has won four consecutive opening-round games.

Both teams enter the game hoping to right what has gone wrong recently. Missouri was stunned 75-60 by 12th-seeded Nebraska in the Big 12 Tournament, while Clemson lost by a basket to 11th-seeded North Carolina State in the first round of the ACC Tournament.

"We had two losses. We didn't come to play," said Missouri senior forward Keith Ramsey. "We just come here and try to get some wins, play hard. We have been preparing since we lost to Nebraska."

A team can't score if it doesn't have the ball, and that's the philosophy of Missouri coach Mike Anderson. His Tigers are adept at playing keep away -- their intense style has resulted in an average of nearly 11 steals a game, tops in the country and part of the 19.7 turnovers they force each time out.

Clemson isn't far behind with an average of 17.5 forced turnovers and 9.6 steals.

Between them, the teams' pressing defenses have combined for 649 steals, 350 by Missouri.

"From the outside view, when you watch us play, sometimes it looks a little helter skelter," said Missouri senior guard Zaire Taylor. "I think it's a little organized chaos going on, whereas when I watch them it seemed a little more organized in appearance. But both styles I feel are effective."

Clemson has a big ace inside with 6-foot-7, 240-pound senior Trevor Booker. He's the only player in ACC history with at least 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 200 assists, 200 blocks and 100 steals.

Booker will start his 134th game in a row for Clemson, which will break the school record for total games started that's held by Cliff Hammonds. Booker said he desperately wants to experience that winning feeling in the tournament. Clemson has lost two consecutive first-round games as the higher seed: in 2008, as a No. 5 to No. 12 Villanova, and last year as a No. 7 to No. 10 Michigan.


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