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CU's new breed is no paper tiger

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By Robert Howey

In the world of college basketball, these are not your grandfather’s Clemson Tigers. Or even your dad’s. These are a new breed of Clemson Tigers and their bite is as bad as their roar. Over the weekend, across the ACC, it was pretty loud and obvious.OK, sure the Tigers didn’t win the ACC tournament. North Carolina captured the crown in the Carolinas’ Queen City with a tough 86-81 win over those upstart Tigers.You expected the regular-season champion Heels to be there.Clemson? Well, the Tigers had produced a splendid season, but ACC tournament success hasn’t been in their hoops history.Just making the ACC tourney title game was a milestone. Again league history tells us the last time Clemson was in the tourney title game was 46 years ago when the sixth-seeded Tigers of coach Press Maravich – yes, Pistol Pete’s dad – fell to top-seeded Wake Forest.Wake’s roster included Billy Packer, better known today for his college basketball commentary. Back in the early 1960s, Packer had hair and game, played then as well as he talks it today.Those Deacs, paced by All-American Len Chappell, knocked off the Tigers’ 77-66 for the ACC tournament championship in Raleigh.Clemson’s roster included a player named Mike Bohonak, now a Lancaster resident who came to the Tigers from the Pittsburgh area. Bohonak, in the 1962 title game, netted 13 points and had nine rebounds, but it wasn’t enough that night.Bohonak tuned in Sunday afternoon and came away impressed with the present day Tigers.He had to be. Clemson made a statement Friday night when they opened their run, blitzing Boston College 82-48, its largest margin of victory in ACC tourney history. On short rest, they followed with a solid win over No. 7 Duke, the league’s second-seeded team. Duke had defeated Clemson 22 straight games before CU prevailed in stunning fashion.Then came the title clash with UNC. The Heels rallied from a one-point halftime deficit to build a 72-59 lead. Just when it appeared the Tigers were going to be blown out, they bowed their necks and responded with a furious rally.The Heels held their composure and held on.“I was proud of them,” Bohonak said. “The Tigers gave it all they had and that’s all you can ask. They played hard.”Given another shot – a coveted NCAA bid – the Tigers need to keep playing well, Bohonak said.“They made a statement in the tournament, but now they need to back it up,” Bohonak said. “It’s been a great year for them, but they need to go to the NCAAs and have some success, not one and done.”Bohonak said build on the success as well as the shortfalls.“They fell short in the ACC tourney, but you take that and tell a difference-maker recruit if he joins the program, he can get Clemson over the hump,” Bohonak said. “What you want to do is keep having success and build stability which means having the coach back.“You want to keep him and not lose him to another big school,” Bohonak said. “His success will draw interest.”Purnell, with a contract extension in hand, has come far on the scenic campus known for its rolling hills, but he knows there are higher goals, hence more mountains to climb, including that elusive ACC tournament crown.“I’m pleased with the direction and growth of this program,” he said. “I feel very optimistic about the future.”Clemson grandads and Tigers of yesteryear can and should be proud.