Tigers Come Up Short Against 18th Ranked Duke

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON --- The Clemson Tiger mascot held up a sign with 2:36 to play Thursday that read ?Believe.? And that?s exactly what the sellout crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum did. But in the end, despite a furious second half rally, their Tigers fell to 18th ranked Duke 71-66.

?They came out in the second half and they gave themselves a chance,? Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. ?I thought we were ready to play early, but Duke did a good job converting there late in the first half, but I was proud of the way our guys came back and played with tremendous energy in the second half.?

After managing just one field goal in the last 11:44 of the first half and shooting a miserable 27.3 percent, the Tigers lit up the net in the last 20 minutes, hitting 60.6 percent of its shots.

?They came out aggressive not only defensively, but offensively, and you knew then they were going to make a comeback,? Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

Clemson (19-8, 5-8 ACC) used a 24-5 run from the closing seconds of the first half to the 10:14 mark of the second half to close a once 24-point deficit to five, 47-42, with 10:14 to go. The Tigers could get no closer as they equaled that deficit again, 62-57, with 1:57 to play after a Cliff Hammonds three and again with 47.9 seconds to play, 66-61, on a Trevor Booker layup.

?I thought the last 15 seconds of the first half were an indication that they were going to make a run at us in the second half,? Krzyzewski said. ?But our kids made big plays to get the momentum back.?

Clemson, which didn?t trap at all in the second half, forced seven turnovers thanks to the trap in the last seven minutes. In each of those instances, the Tigers failed to convert as Duke built on its lead thanks to two Jon Scheyer and one Greg Paulus three-pointers. Scheyer?s second three of the half gave Duke a 62-52 lead with 3:20 to play.

?It was just one of those games were we came back and gave it our best shot and they did just enough to hold us off,? Clemson?s Cliff Hammonds said.

A Booker layup and a Hammonds three-pointer with 1:57 to play, pulled the Tigers within five points at 66-61, but Duke made a couple of free throws down the stretch to hold on for the five-point win.

?Duke did a good job with its free throws down near the end of the game and we had a couple of turnovers,? Purnell said. ?I don?t think we played the way we wanted tonight and we got a little impatient with some of our shots.?

Clemson guard K.C. Rivers made his first start of the 2006-2007 season Thursday night. And after he made the first shot, a three-pointer from the right wing, it appeared his first start was going to be a good one.

But Rivers made just one more field goal after that in the first half and his teammates did not fare much better as the Tigers missed their next seven shots in the first half and went 11:43 without a field goal.

?When that happens, you have to play better defense and we didn?t do that at that point,? Hammonds said. ?You have to keep it turned up and hold them with you, but that wasn?t the case. They converted and we didn?t at that point.?

The Blue Devils (21-6, 8-6) took advantage of the Tigers? first half woes, outscoring Clemson 29-5 at one point. Hammonds ended the bleeding with a three-pointer from the left wing with 1.3 seconds to play before the break to make the score 42-21.

?We could not have asked for a better start,? Krzyzewski said.
The Tigers managed to keep the game tight early as Booker had three first half blocks and Rivers nailed his first two three-point attempts for a slim 8-7 lead with 15:28 to play. But then someone put the lid on Clemson?s basket after Sam Perry hit a floater with 11:44 left, which tied the game at the time 13-13.

Duke closed the half by outscoring the Tigers 29-8. Clemson has now lost eight of its last 10 games after starting the season 17-0.
The loss puts the Tigers in a difficult situation where they have to win their final three remaining games to even have a shot at getting an NCAA bid. Clemson has to turn around this afternoon and fly up to Boston where it will play Boston College at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

?We are in a very difficult spot right now as far as the NCAA tournament goes and we need to win some games,? Purnell said. ?Two out of the last three games are on the road in the ACC, but we?ve got to win them.?

Duke got 18 points from Scheyer and 16 from DeMarcus Nelson, while Paulus had 14 points to go along with six assists. Paulus also had 9 turnovers.
Clemson got 14 from Hammonds and Vernon Hamilton, while Booker had 13 and Rivers scored 11. Mays, who did not start the game, scored 10.

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