Tigers keep up intensity despite loss

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Even though Clemson's perfect streak is over, the enthusiasm for the program is still there.

Clemson students line up outside Memorial Stadium Monday night for tickets to the Tigers' game against North Carolina. to be played Jan. 18 in Clemson, S.C.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Clemson students line up outside Memorial Stadium Monday night for tickets to the Tigers' game against North Carolina. to be played Jan. 18 in Clemson, S.C.

Clemson students set up 145 tents outside the Littlejohn Coliseum ticket office on Monday night to get seats for Wednesday's matchup between the 19th-ranked Tigers and No. 4 North Carolina.

"There's a lot of excitement right now," Tigers coach Oliver Purnell said.

And there could've been so much more had both teams not lost over the weekend.

The Tar Heels (15-2, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) were ranked No. 1 before they fell at Virginia Tech on Saturday. A short time earlier, Clemson's distinction as the nation's last unbeaten in Division I came to an end with its 92-87 loss at Maryland.

Purnell figures North Carolina will be as determined to put the loss behind them as the Tigers will be to start a new streak.

"I expect they'll be pretty fired up," Purnell said.

This season has already generated a lot of excitement. While the Tigers had steady improvement over Purnell's four seasons, nothing has compared to this stretch. The team's 17-0 start matched the best in school history, established by the 1986-87 team.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams has followed Purnell's progress, particularly after Williams came to the ACC four seasons ago to take over the Tar Heels. He became good friends with Purnell when the two were assistants for the 2004 U.S. Olympic team.

"I like Oliver so much, and I try to keep up with his club," Williams said.

This year Williams has seen a versatility the Tigers have rarely had in the past. Senior Vernon Hamilton and junior Cliff Hammonds have steadied the backcourt, while freshman star Trevor Booker has joined junior James Mays - neither who were around last ACC season - to provide athleticism up front.

Mays missed the conference season a year ago because he was academically ineligible.

"Booker and Mays give them something they were lacking last year," Williams said. "Now, you give them those two guys up front and it really makes them a strong, strong bunch."

Prior to Saturday's loss, North Carolina carried a 12-game win streak into Virginia Tech.

Usually, though, the Tar Heels find a way to recover against Clemson. North Carolina is 9-1 against the Tigers when both teams are ranked.


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