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February 9, 2010

Defense will be key for 'Noles in Littlejohn

Florida State has been one of the ACC's most suffocating defenses this season, a trend that doesn't bode well for Clemson as the Seminoles prepare for Wednesday's road game against the Tigers.

The Seminoles have allowed opponents to shoot just 36.8 percent from the field this year and Clemson is just 1-6 when it fails to hit at least 40 percent.

The two teams renew their rivalry with the Seminoles (17-6, 5-4 ACC) travelling to Littlejohn Coliseum to square off against Oliver Purnell's Tigers (16-7, 4-5 ACC) in a pivotal ACC match-up. For senior forward Ryan Reid, it will mark his eighth career meeting against the Tigers and fourth trip to Littlejohn. As a grizzled veteran, he knows what to expect from the 10,000 faithful Tiger fans in attendance.

"The crowd is into it and we expect it to be a packed house," Reid said. "But at the same time, we are good players and we can't let that get into our heads."

In addition to avoiding the pressure of playing in a hostile environment, the Seminoles, who turn it over an average of 17.1 times per game, must avoid increasing that average against the Tigers high-pressure defense. Purnell's team, which combines length and athleticism, will throw full court pressure at the Seminoles, designed to create turnovers and easy scoring opportunities off of them. That formula has worked all year for Clemson, as opponents have turned the ball over more than 18 times per game.

"They create a lot of opportunities for you to turn the ball over and we have been a little turnover prone this year," Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton said. "We have to be very careful and sure of ourselves with how we handle their press and make sure we don't allow their press to speed us up."

On both ends of the court, the Tigers are led by senior forward Trevor Booker. Booker enters Wednesday night's game averaging 15.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, while also coming up with 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. He has led the Tigers in scoring 11 times this season and led them in rebounding in all but three games.

"I am not real sure anyone has really stopped Trevor," Hamilton said. "Every once in a while he may not have one of his Trevor Booker games but even when he is not scoring he requires so much attention that it opens up opportunities for his teammates. He is an outstanding player and a tremendous athlete."

Reid, who has shut down some of the league's best big men over his career, admits that Booker presents a different challenge.

"He is just so active," Reid said. "He is always consistent, always going hard, so you basically have to match his intensity and stay with him defensively, because he is all over the court."

Booker is not afraid to shoot from the perimeter and he is capable enough from there that defenders must respect him no matter where he is on the court. That also allows the paint to open up and present driving opportunities for teammates. If Clemson attempts to pull Seminole defenders away from the basket it will be nothing new for Florida State, as it has encountered that numerous times this season.

"We have been accustomed to that for a majority of the year," Hamilton said. "All of our opponents have used different types of procedures to try to pull guys away from the basket. As of late they have been using Solomon's man to set ball screens, because they don't like him to be around the basket so they bring him out on the floor. That is an adjustment we have to make, but we have been handling it okay."

"I am always looking forward to a challenge," Reid added. "I think that is the only way I can get better. I am looking forward to it."

The Tigers are not a one man show. Booker has plenty of help from guards Demontez Stitt (10.8 ppg, 3.3 apg) and Tanner Smith (10.0 ppg), while forward Jerai Grant (6.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg) complements Booker in the paint.

During the Tigers skid of losing four of their last five, they have had to deal with an injury to Stitt which led to him missing two games and being limited in two others. He returned in their loss to Virginia Tech and played 27 minutes but contributed just three points, three rebounds, an assist, and three turnovers. Despite his recent struggles, Hamilton is expecting the full arsenal from the Tigers including a near healthy floor-leader.

"I watched the film of the last game - that is a turned ankle (for Stitt)," Hamilton said. "Youngsters normally adjust. Sometimes it is an individual thing, sometimes youngsters will heal faster than others but what I saw of him in the Virginia Tech game lets me know we will be playing against the old Stitt."

Wednesday's game begins at 7:00 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2.


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