Two weeks ago Clemson lost a third consecutive basketball game and appeared to be spinning its wheels on the hardwood once again as the school waited to play for a national title on the gridiron.
But the Tigers appear to have turned things around after earning a third straight victory Wednesday night beating No. 9 Duke 68-63 and ending a long and frustrating streak in the process. The victory gave the Tigers consecutive wins over ranked opponents for the first time since March 1989 when it beat Duke and Georgia Tech. Clemson beat No. 16 Louisville on Sunday.
Duke made 11 of 25 3-point shots but had no answers inside for Clemson big man Landry Nnoko who scored 12 points and pulled down 13 rebounds while blocking four shots and altering others. Duke forward Marshall Plumlee played with foul trouble and scored just seven points. His replacement, Chase Jeter, looked lost when he was on the court fouling out with just a single rebound.
Jaron Blossomgame scored 17 points for the second consecutive game to lead Clemson, including going 8-for-8 at the foul line.Avry Holmes made two free throws with two seconds remaining to seal the victory.
Grayson Allen scored 17 for the Blue Devils. In the final two minutes, Luke Kenard missed a layup, Matt Jones missed a free throw and a potential game-tying 3-pointer. The Blue Devils will lament going 2-for-7 at the free throw line and not being more agreesive to get themselves there more often.
Time will tell if the two victories over ranked foes will be a turning point for Clemson in the tough ACC, but beating teams coached by Hall of Famers Mike Krzyzewski and Rick Pitino has to give the Tigers a level of confidence they were nowhere near just a few weeks ago.
Coach Brad Brownell said his team returned from Christmas break with improved focus and as healthy as it has been since the start of the season.
Things don't get any easier for the Tigers over the remainder of the month. Each of the next three games also comes against a member of the current top-25 (No. 8 Miami, No. 13 Virginia, No. 20 Pitt) and they close out January on the road against rival Florida State.
Keeping the winning streak alive much longer will be a challenge but this is a Clemson team that generally defends well, has a rim protector in Nnono and can score in a variety of ways.
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