Littlejohn to Host Top 10 Teams Again Wednesday Night

by - Senior Writer -

For the second time in just 19 days, Clemson’s Littlejohn Coliseum will be the site of a battle of Top 10 teams when the No. 10 Tigers host the 4th-ranked Duke Blue Devils at 9 p.m.

The game marks just the sixth time in school history, but second in 19 days, that two Top 10 teams have met on the floor at Littlejohn.

Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell, who saw his team lost to Wake Forest in a meeting of Top 10’s back on Jan. 17, said Wednesday night’s contest is just one of a number of big games in the ACC this season.

"It's a marathon, and your team's ability to understand that that's the way it is, is important," Purnell said. "There's no wallowing in your last loss. In most other leagues, you can point down the line or to a segment of games where you can take a breath because you see games you should win fairly easily. That's not the case in our league, and it's important for our kids to understand that."

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said he knows that Wednesday night’s contest will be a tough one for his Blue Devils and underscores the strength of the ACC.

"The ACC is the strongest it has been in about four or five years, primarily because there really is not an easy win, especially on an opponent's home court," Krzyzewski said. "One of the things about our league is the pride the different fans have at each school. That and the campus sites (for home courts) create more parity. I felt going into this year that the league would be really good because we have a lot of strong teams with a lot of veterans."

Purnell said the Blue Devils work as hard or harder than any team in the ACC.

“Not only are they playing hard and playing with intensity, but they really seem to be enjoying each other out there," he said. "You see those guys playing with smiles on their faces, and that's a nice combination to have, and not necessarily an easy combination to get."

Purnell said that he will not back off of Clemson’s full court press against Duke, even though it had limited success last week at Virginia Tech, a game that saw him switch the Tigers to a half-court trapping defense with big success in the second half of that game.

“It's a huge part of our system, what we do and who we are," said Purnell. "It's one of the things that makes us a successful basketball team and a successful basketball program. We're going to stay with what we do and what's been successful for us over the last several years."

Krzyzewski said he didn’t expect the Tigers to back off in their intensity, and has always been impressed with how hard Purnell’s teams play.

“We know we can’t turn in over against them,” Krzyzewski said. “Oliver has built such a good program based on defense and effort, and his kids play as hard as anybody game in and game out. We can’t turn it over, and we have to be strong with the ball. That is one of the keys to the ball game. We have to hit shots when we do break the press, and be able to take shots and hit them. If you don’t turn it over, you have a chance to get a good shot, but they do a good job of turning you over.”

Both teams are ranked in the top 25 in the nation in turnover margin – the Tigers are ranked 13th and the Blue Devils 22nd.

Krzyzewski said that he knows the denizens of Littlejohn will be waiting to give the home team an assist, but said that is something the Blue Devils have grown used to in his tenure.

“Over the last couple of decades, we know we are going to get everyone’s best shot,” he said. “We know we’re gonna get a big crowd, a raucous crowd, and that team’s best effort.”

The Blue Devils have won 22 of the last 23 games between the two teams, but the Tigers won the last meeting when they took a 78-74 win in Charlotte last year in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament. That win marked the first win for Clemson in the ACC semifinals since 1962.
The Tigers have not beaten Duke in Clemson since 1996-97 season when they earned an 86-82 overtime win.

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