Clemson insists quarterback Parker hasn't regressed despite numbers

Kyle Parker

CLEMSON -- Clemson coach Brad Brownell challenged his players to be more aggressive on offense and defense. Milton Jennings took that to heart and came away with the best game of his career.

The former Pinewood Prep standout finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds, both career highs, as the Tigers ended a two-game losing streak with a 59-49 victory over Furman on Friday night.

"I just answered the coach," Jenning said. "I finally stepped up. I'm a junior this year -- a little bit of seniority, if you must. I saw my teammates weren't playing as well and I just decided to just go ahead and go."

It was a relief for the Tigers (3-2), especially after the week they had at Littlejohn Coliseum. A second-half comeback from 15 points down last Saturday night fell short in a 72-69 loss to College of Charleston. Three days later, Clemson was beaten by former coach Cliff Ellis, back at the arena for the first time since stepping down in 1994. Ellis left that game with a plaque from his old school and a 60-59 victory.

"We wanted to play some games like that against some good teams," Brownell said. "It's disappointing that we lost, but we found some things out."

With a brutal three-game stretch upcoming -- trips to Iowa and Arizona are sandwiched between Clemson's rivalry game with South Carolina -- Jennings and the Tigers knew they couldn't leave here with another loss.

Things looked ominous early on as Furman bolted to a 9-0 lead less than four minutes into the game. That's when Jennings got the Tigers going.

"I felt like in the first few games, I was kind of getting a feel for myself," Jennings said. "Tonight, I sort of took on everybody's role."

Jennings had 12 first-half points to keep Clemson in the game, including his team's final six points to tie game at halftime after the Tigers trailed throughout the period.

Jennings then gave Clemson its first lead of the game, 26-24, with the first basket of the second half. Two minutes later, Andre Young hit the second of his three 3-pointers to put the Tigers ahead for good, 31-28.

Furman closed a nine-point lead to 46-42 with less than eight minutes to go. But Young, Booker and Jennings combined for four foul shots to rebuild the margin. The Paladins couldn't get closer than six points the rest of the way.

Brownell liked the effort his saw from his players. Still, he says the Tigers must do more, much more, if they want to compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference this year.

Brownell is faced with an odd situation. He's got six upperclassmen and six freshmen on the roster and, while his older players have led the way, Brownell hasn't seen enough progress from the newcomers.

"My freshmen have got to play better," Brownell said. "Got to have more guys step up."

Jennings says it's time for him to be counted on every game. He was a top-50 recruit out of Pinewood Prep in Summerville, yet has struggled to find the consistency many expected him show almost immediately.

Jennings surpassed his previous scoring high of 16 points, last set this past March in a loss to North Carolina. His previous high of 12 rebounds was also set in a loss to the Tar Heels, that one coming in February.

Bryant Irwin led Furman with 13 points and seven rebounds. Brandon Sebirumbi, the team's leading scorer at 10.8 points a game coming in, was held to three foul shots and fouled out in the second half.

"I guess he was in foul trouble," Furman coach Jeff Jackson said. "He played 14 minutes and we're a lot better when he plays more."

Among the so-so Thanksgiving weekend crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum was former New York Yankees great Paul O'Neill, the outfielder who was the backbone of four World Series champions. O'Neill, wearing a crisp, purple dress shirt, was there to watch son Aaron, a freshman guard for the Paladins.

Jackson grew up in New York City when O'Neill's teams were at their peak and said it was difficult to keep his emotions in check when first meeting O'Neill to talk basketball.

"I was trying to explain to my staff just how good he was," Jackson said. "If you were a New Yorker growing up at that time, which I was, you were experiencing baseball and just how much of an impact he had on the Yankees."