GREENSBORO, N.C. – Sixteen games have come and gone for Clemson since they beat Duke by 13 in Littlejohn Coliseum in January.
Since then, the No. 7 Blue Devils (24-7) have gone 13-2 to earn their 3-seed and first-round bye – resting comfortably while the Tigers toiled to a 69-65 overtime win Thursday night over Georgia Tech.
Clemson (20-11) went 9-7 in the stretch, but are unquestionably playing their best basketball of the season at the right time.
“I don’t know that either team is playing the way we did in January,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “Hopefully we’re both playing better. I certainly think Duke is.”
Tigers keep fighing
Back on Jan. 11, the Tigers trailed by six at the half and then outscored the Blue Devils by 19 in the second session. Duke shot its second-worst percentage of the season (34).
K.J. McDaniels posted one of his five 20 and 10 games this season, adding three blocks, and three more Tigers joined him in double-digits scoring.
Clemson was plus-18 in rebound margin and made more free throws (18) than Duke attempted (15).
“It was a huge win for us because it gave our guys a bunch of confidence,” said Brownell. “It was early in the ACC season. I think the win reassured our team when we do the things that we need to do and play at a high level, we can play with a lot of teams in this league.
“Duke is one of the marquee programs in the country, not just in the ACC, and to have a chance to compete against those guys is something you really look forward to and respect. And so when you do play well and have a good result, it certainly means a lot, not only for you and your team, but for your program.”
Clemson has won five of their last seven behind their strong defense and some help for the first-team All-ACCer McDaniels.
Behind a late push from junior guard Damarcus Harrison, Clemson had three in double-figures for a seventh-straight game Thursday – Harrison scoring 10 of his 12 points in the final 25 minutes. He has averaged 12 points per game in the Tigers’ late swoon.
“We just guarded harder and got some buckets in transition,” Harrison said. “That really helped us to push the tempo. Our energy level was just higher.”
McDaniels was noticeably hurting and his left shoulder was taped up. He says he thinks he tweaked it against Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Feb. 22. The Birmingham, Ala. native shot his second-worst percentage of the season (.267; worst was also against GT, at home, .214), but added 10 of his 18 points at the free throw line.
“I tried to not concentrate on my shoulder and find a way to knock them in,” said McDaniels. “It’s been hurt for awhile now…It’s just been aching. I’ve been trying to rehab and get right. It probably does (hurt the shooting), but I have not excuses. I have to do what I can to help the team.”
Brownell says they are certainly keeping an eye on it.
“He is battling right now,” Brownell said. “He’s had a shoulder injury for about a week now, or two.
“Unfortunately, I think it’s progressively getting a little more problematic. We’re trying to rest him and do some things to help him with it. But there’s no question it’s bothering him.”
His team became one of only 16 in 60 tries to win a first try in the ACC Tournament at Clemson. A mega-upset in the Triad tonight and they can become one of only three to string together consecutive victories (2008/1962 the others).
“It feels great,” McDaniels said. “Last year we had a chance to win and let that go. We didn’t want to one-and-out. We’re here to stay. I’m proud of my teammates.”
Extra Clemson-Duke Notes
• Duke is second in the ACC in three-point shooting percentage and Clemson’s No. 1 nationally in 3-point ‘D.’ The Blue Devils shot 32 percent in Littlejohn, but they missed 17 perimeter tries.
• The Blue Devils are led by freshman forward Jabari Parker, who averages 19.2 points and nine rebounds per game. He has put together six-straight double-doubles. He had 20 points and just one rebound in the first matchup between the two.
• Clemson shot just 60 percent from the line in the first game, but made more (18) than Duke attempted (15). The Tigers hit 25-of-29 on Thursday.