Thursday, January 3, 2008

Guarding Lawson a tough test for Stitt

At first glance, it seems unusual for Clemson coach Oliver Purnell to go into ACC play and Sunday’s conference opener against top-ranked North Carolina counting so heavily on freshman guards.

Butler High graduate Demontez Stitt has started all 13 games for the Tigers at point guard. Terrence Oglesby is Clemson’s second-leading scorer at 12.5 points per game and is averaging 17 minutes off the bench.

Their free throw percentages are a big reason they are playing. Last season, Clemson shot 57.8 percent from the foul line, an all-time low for an ACC team. The Tigers might have been just one win short of the NCAA tournament, and lost eight games by five or fewer points, including four by two points or fewer.

So if Clemson could have improved its free throw shooting by a few percentage points, the Tigers might have been an NCAA tournament team rather than an NIT finalist.

This season, Stitt (88.4 percent) and Oglesby (84.4 percent) have helped Clemson improve to 65.8 percent from the foul line.

“We’re a better free throw shooting team,” Purnell said.

Top-ranked North Carolina (14-0) presents the most serious challenge yet to 19th-ranked Clemson (12-1) and its freshman guards. Purnell said Tar Heel point guard Ty Lawson gets the ball up the court so quickly after opponents score that it will be difficult for Clemson to press North Carolina.

While watching film, Clemson assistant Ron Bradley has timed Lawson getting the ball from one end to the other in 2 ½ seconds. Stitt’s job as a freshman will be to slow Lawson down.

“He’s gone against ACC caliber players and teams in our nonconference schedule,” Purnell said. “That’s really helped him as well as our entire team. Am I confident he will hold up (in ACC play)? Absolutely.” – Ken Tysiac