After suffering a rare early exit from the ACC tournament a year ago, tradition-rich Duke is one victory away from returning to the conference title game for the 10th time in 11 years.
Clemson, meanwhile, does not have nearly the same storied history as its conference foe. The Tigers need to beat the Blue Devils for the first time in more than a decade to earn their first championship game berth in nearly a half century.
The seventh-ranked Blue Devils look to make it 23 straight victories over the third-seeded Tigers when the teams meet in Saturday’s semifinals in Charlotte, N.C.
Duke (27-4) has the tournament’s second seed after closing the regular season with a 76-68 home loss to No. 1 North Carolina last Saturday in a matchup that determined the ACC regular-season champion.
The Blue Devils entered the conference tournament looking to bounce back from that loss while hoping to prove that last year’s first-round loss to North Carolina State was simply an aberration. Prior to that loss, Duke had appeared in nine straight ACC title games from 1998-2006, winning seven league championships during that stretch.
Duke opened tournament play with an 82-70 victory over seventh-seeded Georgia Tech in Friday’s quarterfinals, as seven Blue Devils claimed their first postseason victory of any kind with the proud program.
“It’s a good win, because it’s a step in the right direction for us in accomplishing our goal,” said DeMarcus Nelson, who finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and a career-high seven assists. “And our goal is to win this thing.”
Duke, which last won the conference tournament in 2006, has won 16 tournament titles - tied with North Carolina for the most in the ACC.
It’s been a completely different story for Clemson (23-8).
The Tigers are the only charter member of the league never to win the tournament title in its 55-year history, and they have not been to the championship game since losing to Wake Forest in 1962.
Clemson, which is holding its highest ACC seed in 18 years, advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 1990 with an 82-48 victory over 11th-seeded Boston College on Saturday.
“I’m really happy to advance,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. “We came here to win the ACC championship.”
It’s not going to be easy for the Tigers, however, as they face a Blue Devils team they have not beaten since Jan. 7, 1997.
In their only meeting this season on Jan. 19, Duke defeated Clemson 93-80 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Nelson had 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting in that win over the Tigers, and is averaging 17.7 points in his last three games versus them.
Freshman Kyle Singler, the ACC’s rookie of the year, had 17 points against Clemson earlier this season. Singler is averaging 13.9 points this season, but finished with a season-low five points against the Yellow Jackets after picking up two fouls in the first 31 seconds.
Clemson had one of its best defensive performances of the season in its ACC tournament win over the Eagles. The Tigers limited Boston College to 36.7 percent shooting and their pressure defense forced 22 turnovers.
James Mays led Clemson with 15 points, while Raymond Sykes chipped in 12 on 6-of-6 shooting from the floor.
“It’s definitely exciting to get another chance to play Duke or North Carolina,” said Mays, who had eight points against the Blue Devils earlier this season. “We just have to approach it like we have been approaching every game this year. We really have to prepare like no other.”
Duke is 5-3 against Clemson in the ACC tournament, winning four straight meetings since losing in 1977. In their latest tournament meeting in 2000, the Blue Devils won 94-63.
The winner of this game will play either top-seeded North Carolina or fourth-seeded Virginia Tech in Sunday’s championship game.