Clemson is enjoying an excellent season, but still can’t seem to overcome the nation’s elite. Beating Duke would go a long way toward ending that problem.
The 10th-ranked Tigers look to beat a top opponent and stay in the thick of the race for their first ACC title in 18 seasons Wednesday when they host the No. 4 Blue Devils.
The only losses suffered by Clemson (18-2, 4-2) this season came consecutively against top-five opponents - 78-68 to then-No. 2 Wake Forest on Jan. 17, and 94-70 at then-No. 5 North Carolina four days later. The Tigers have dropped 19 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 5, and 36 of their last 37 such contests.
They have also lost nine straight at home to Duke (19-2, 6-1), and had dropped 22 in a row overall in the series before a 78-74 victory in last season’s ACC Tournament semifinals.
Clemson has rebounded from its two losses to win consecutive games against unranked opponents, including an 86-82 comeback victory last Thursday at Virginia Tech. The Tigers used an 18-0 run to overcome a 15-point deficit in the second half.
“This is a big win for us as far as our standings in the ACC, but we got a tough ballgame coming up Wednesday,” said senior guard K.C. Rivers, whose 29 points and seven 3-pointers sparked the rally. “We’ve got to turn our focus on to Duke.”
Rivers, who needs four 3-pointers to tie Terrell McIntyre’s school record of 259 for his career, has shot an ACC-leading 54.8 percent from behind the arc in conference play (17-for-31), and is 10-for-20 from 3-point range in five career meetings with the Blue Devils.
Duke lost its first No. 1 ranking since 2006 this week, but the Blue Devils wrapped up their week at the top by blowing out Virginia 79-54 Sunday at home to rebound from their last-minute defeat Jan. 28 at Wake Forest.
With 18 points against the Cavaliers, junior swingman Gerald Henderson led the team in scoring for the sixth time in the last seven games. Henderson is averaging 15.0 points per game this season, but has averaged 20.4 points in the last seven contests while shooting 59.8 percent from the field and going 12 of 20 from 3-point range.
“There’s got to be some kind of fire in you after a loss, and it’s nothing like you just try to show,” said Henderson, who is averaging 19.3 points and shooting 57.6 percent in seven ACC games. “It’s just something that’s there. Because the last time you played, the last time people saw you play, you were a loser. We don’t want to be seen as that.”
Henderson has failed to score in double figures in three of his four career games versus Clemson. Rivers, meanwhile, has had at least 10 points the last four times he’s played against the Blue Devils.
Duke’s defense is limiting opponents to 54.6 points per game and 37.3 percent shooting in conference play. .