After the most important Clemson basketball victory in a decade, Rick Barnes could have almost anything he wanted.
But all he wanted was some hot cocoa.
“We’re looking for some hot chocolate,” said Barnes, out as part of his normal Saturday campus routine just hours after his Tigers defeated national champion Kentucky 79-71 the night before. “It’s pretty cold out here.”
Barnes, who got in at 3:30 a.m., is part of Clemson’s radio pregame show, a job he’s done every football morning since he joined the Tigers in 1994. This time, though, as much attention was focused on Barnes as the football team.
He spent the chilly Southern morning hugging orange-clad fans and accepting congratulations for the startling overtime win at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.
Barnes said his team showed the discipline and poise he’s worked for and, even trailing by 10 points in the second half, felt they could get back in it.
“When we got it down from 10 to where we took the lead,” he said, “I felt pretty good at that point.”
Clemson, 20th in the preseason rankings, was thought to be improved this season, but not enough to muscle up with the defending champs. The Tigers outrebounded Kentucky 43-28. Against the Wildcats’ pressure defense, they committed only five turnovers during the second half and overtime.
Harold Jamison, one of five freshman who saw significant minutes last year, made 8 of 10 shots for 20 points, including eight points in the extra period.
“We knew we were going to be in for more challenges this year,” Jamison said. “We just wanted to be ready.”
Perhaps it was Kentucky who should have been ready for the Tigers. Clemson shot 55 percent (32 of 58), a better mark than any Kentucky opponent last season.
After missing a chance to win at the buzzer, Clemson dominated the overtime, holding the Wildcats to 1-of-10 shooting and grabbing eight rebounds to Kentucky’s one.
Barnes said he was worried his team might gag on the highly charged atmosphere at the RCA Dome. There were 35,000 people filling the Dome, the same kind of crowd that will be there for the Final Four this spring.
“Going in there I was a little concerned about it,” Barnes said. “I knew (the Tigers) hadn’t been there, but they responded well.”
The Tigers don’t play for a week, then open at home against Coastal Carolina.
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