Defense carries load as Tigers stay undefeated

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CLEMSON, S.C. --- Clemson coach Oliver Purnell screamed so much at practice Friday that he lost his voice.

What was the fuss about?

"Defense," Tigers forward Trevor Booker said.

That figures given that a swarming, pressure-packed effort against the ball has kept the 12th-ranked Tigers perfect in two games this week.

The Tigers improved to 16-0 Saturday when they used a 24-10 second-half run to break free of North Carolina State for a 63-51 win. That followed a 66-59 victory over Alabama Tuesday, when the Tigers rallied with a 14-0 run fueled by defensive pressure.

Booker led the way against the Wolfpack with 23 points and a dominant presence underneath for the Tigers (2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference).

"I thought our defense was the story with our ability to shut them down early and late," said Purnell, whose voice was raspy and barely audible.

That's been Clemson's touchstone all season -- and maybe the reason there's a good chance to keep their run of success going deep into conference play.

The Tigers are a game shy of matching the school's best start, accomplished in 1986-87 and matched two years ago.

That 2007 club was flashy and potent offensively, but it couldn't sustain that in league play, finished 2-9 and winding up in the NIT. Now with Clemson going full-throttle on the defensive side, Purnell's not letting up a bit.

"He yelled at us a good bit," Booker said. "We finally listened to him today."

Still, it took awhile for Purnell's message to get through.

Clemson squandered a 10-point first-half lead and was tied with the Wolfpack (9-4, 0-1) 33-all after Trevor Ferguson's driving bucket.

That's when the Tigers cranked it up, outscoring N.C. State 24-10 over the next 10 minutes to take control.

The Wolfpack committed five consecutive turnovers during one stretch and couldn't recover. Particularly not with Booker, the 6-foot-7 junior, having his way near the basket.

He had 10 points during the run and finished with his highest output since scoring 25 against Presbyterian on Nov. 28. Booker has a sweet shot from the outside -- he's 5-for-11 on 3-pointers this season -- but Purnell said his place is underneath.

"I thought he did too much fading until early in the second half. Then he went to work on the block," Purnell rasped. "As long as we can get the ball down low, let's keep doing it."


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