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Dec. 2, 2006

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – James Mays had 16 of his 21 points in the second half to lead Clemson to a 9-0 start for the third time in four seasons after a 74-53 victory over rival South Carolina on Saturday.

The Tigers, who also opened with nine straight wins in 2002-03 and last season, pulled away at the end of the first half after K.C. Rivers hit a jumper and two 3-pointers for a 31-22 lead.

Then Mays, a junior, took over after the break and guaranteed the Gamecocks (4-2) would never get back in the game.

It was Clemson’s third-straight victory in the series.

Mays played only nine minutes of the first half because he had two fouls. He did not show any tentativeness the final 20 minutes, hitting six of his eight attempts.

Mays finished a three-point play with 8:57 left that extended the lead to 53-38. Three minutes or so later, Mays completed another three-point play as the Tigers went up 62-46.

Mays also had seven rebounds, helping Clemson to a dominating 45-30 edge on the boards.

Vernon Hamilton added 12 points while Rivers finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.

South Carolina struggled from the outside, making only one of 13 attempts from behind the arc.

Tre Kelley, the Gamecocks’ top scorer coming in, led the way with 15 points. But Kelley was off target as well, missing 11 of his 18 shots.

The Gamecocks were down 25-22 with 1:31 left in the first half. That’s when Rivers turned things around. After Dominique Archie turned the ball over, Clemson found Rivers for a 3-pointer.

Then Kelley missed another shot and Hamilton passed to a wide-open Rivers, who hit a second 3 with four seconds to go.

Clemson’s win was its second this season against Southeastern Conference competition. It had earlier beaten Mississippi State. It also routed Minnesota, 90-68, this past Wednesday night.