CLEMSON - Scouts from around the NBA were on hand for the show in Littlejohn Coliseum, but Duke’s star-crossed roster had their attention going in.
After 40 minutes of basketball, Clemson junior forward K.J. McDaniels was the one turning heads.
The Birmingham, Ala. native scored a game-high 24 points, adding 10 rebounds and three blocks in 36 minutes. The Tigers’ floor leader scored 13 in the game’s first 15 minutes, in a shootout with top-flight NBA prospect Jabari Parker early (10 in 15).
“McDaniels is one of the best players in the league,” longtime Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said postgame. “He’s the best athlete, and he’s also an outstanding player.”
The 6-6 wing finished the half with 17 points, knocking down 6-of-7 free throws. As Clemson dominated the second session, his hustle plays and highlight dunks electrified the crowd.
“K.J. was the guy who really kept us in the game in the first half and gave us every opportunity to stay within striking distance,” Tigers coach Brad Brownell said. “I think he was one of the guys who settled us down early and gave us the belief that we could win. Obviously as the game went along, I think we convinced ourselves that we could win.”
McDaniels posted his seventh 20-point game of the season, which ranks among the ACC’s best, and added his third double-double. He leads the conference in blocks per game (2.7).
“I have to put myself down there and fight,” said McDaniels. “Rebounding is a huge part of what we do so I do what I have to do.
“They’re a great team and they’ve been a great team. To get a win against them is a great feeling and I’m proud of my teammates for that.”
ORANGE BOWL CHAMPS PAY A VISIT
Clemson’s football coaching staff and players paid a visit to Littlejohn and were honored as Orange Bowl champions at halftime.
Tigers celebrate Duke upset
Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney had a strong message for the fans.
“I just want to thank you for giving us the best environment in all of football to coach and play for right here in Clemson, South Carolina,” said Swinney. “I know that all of you are very proud of this football team as I am. This is a tremendous group of young men with a long list of accomplishments.
“But I want you to know this, this is a place that stands for the best. It should be the best. This team and this staff will not be satisfied until Clemson is back up top - not only in this state, but in the nation.”
‘THREE YARDS AND A CLOUD OF DUST’
Brownell builds his teams on defense, and he thinks Clemson fans could have a little more of an appreciation for that.
Duke scored a season-low 59 points, coming in averaging 84 per game. They hadn’t dipped below 75 but once all year.
“We are going to be tough-minded, physical and gritty," Brownell said. "As you start to watch games like this, you start to appreciate how hard our guys are playing. Pretty soon, it’s always better when you win, but people start to appreciate that we’re three yards and a cloud of dust.
“We’re old Danny Ford. I don’t understand why football guys don’t love us. Nothing against Chad and Dabo and slingin’ it - that’s fun to watch. They’ve been very successful. Right now, we’re the other way.”
COACH K CHALLENGE
Duke’s Coach ‘K’ isn’t shy when talking tough environments to play in. Saturday, his blue-emblazoned squad met a sellout Littlejohn crowd.
“We’re used to tough atmospheres,” Krzyzewski said. “This was great. They should do it all the time. If they like it, why not do it all the time. Their team is playing great. Their team is playing their butts off. That would be good.”
Brownell believes with wins like this Tiger fans will come out fine.
“When there’s been success the fans come out and support it and it’s a tough place to play,” he said. “I don’t know that you can be consistently be succesful unless your fanbase cares about your team. Clemson fans care about basketball. Sometimes it takes a little later in the season. I’d like for them to care about it a little earlier.
“That’s one of the things that makes you successful is having a difficult home arena. Our job is to try to put an exciting product on the floor.”
Clemson had three players with double-doubles for the first time since a 1985 win over Wake Forest. Joining McDaniels were forward Jaron Blossomgame (14 points/14 rebounds) and center Landry Nnoko (10 points/13 rebounds).