Tigers push past loss, focus on ultimate goal

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CLEMSON, S.C. --- Clemson coach Oliver Purnell's goal is still alive.

Clemson coach Oliver Purnell's team lost to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament title game Sunday, but the Tigers earned an NCAA Tournament bid later that night.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Clemson coach Oliver Purnell's team lost to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament title game Sunday, but the Tigers earned an NCAA Tournament bid later that night.

Purnell sounded like a crazy man in October, saying quite seriously that the Tigers' goal was a national championship. This from a program that had never won an Atlantic Coast Conference title, or had even been in the NCAAs since 1998.

After nearly gaining the first on Sunday, Purnell was ready to start on the second.

The Tigers (24-9) lost the ACC Tournament title to No. 1 and overall NCAA top seed, North Carolina, 86-81. A few hours later, Clemson was given a fifth seed and a first-round matchup with Villanova in Tampa, Fla., as part of the Midwest Regional. The contest is slated for 9:50 p.m. on Friday.

"We were terribly disappointed at the end of the game today," Purnell said. "The bottom line is we didn't win that championship. But, we're playing at a high level."

The Tigers had planned to watch the NCAA selections at the school's Death Valley football stadium in the luxury WestZone area. Instead, their run to the conference title game left them watching at their Charlotte, N.C., hotel.

"We set our goal to win a national championship and now we have an opportunity to start on that quest this Friday," the coach said.

Purnell took Clemson to the NCAA Tournament in his fifth season. The Tigers thought they deserved a bid last year after starting 17-0, however a 4-10 stretch in the season's second half ended any chance.

Clemson rebounded in the NIT, advancing to the title game a year ago before losing to West Virginia.

Purnell raised the bar even before the season began with his national championship goal that drew some snickers.

But led by seniors James Mays and Cliff Hammonds, the Tigers remained in the ACC's upper echelon throughout the season.

They might've earned an even higher seed had they capitalized on either regular-season meeting with the Tar Heels. Clemson came close again Sunday.

Still, Purnell was pleased with his team's NCAA draw.

"We feel like we've got a really good basketball team and deserved a high seed, based on our body of work for the entire year," Purnell said. "But also with the way we've played down the stretch. Five is a pretty good seed."


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