Tigers Looking for Breakthru Win At Duke

by - Correspondent -

DURHAM, N.C. - Oliver Purnell has made no secret of the fact that he expects at least three of his four freshmen basketball players to play a major role in Clemson's success this year. Maybe all four.

That's why, based on the way they've played so far during the Tigers' 9-3 start to the current college basketball season, he doesn't want them burdened with too much of anything.

Including thought.

Asked if the four - Cliff Hammonds, Cheyenne Moore, Sam Perry and James Mays - knew what they were getting into when ACC play begins this weekend, Purnell laughed.

"I hope not," he said. "I don't want them scared. Seriously, the've come in here and been like, 'Okay, this is college basketball.' I don't want them to lose that youthful innocence right now."

Of course Purnell has a reason for feeling that way.

Come 8 p.m. Sunday, Clemson opens conference play at one of the most storied sites in all of college basketball - Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium. For those who have never been through 40 minutes in Krzyzewskiville, the experience can be mind-numbing.

Those who have been through it can vouch for the difficulty of playing before the Cameron Crazies.

A year ago Clemson and Duke were tied 27-27 with 1:20 remaining in the first half. By the time the half was over, the Blue Devils led by nine; ultimately they won going away, 81-55.

That Duke team, No. 1 in the country at the time, featured Chris Duhon and Luol Deng, among others. The current edition is minus those two and not expected to be in the top two or three of the ACC this season.

None of which phases Purnell.

"Poor Duke," he said. "All they have left are (J.J.) Reddick and (Daniel) Ewing, (Sheldon) Williams and (Shavlik) Randolph. When they lose someone, they replace them with a McDonald's All-American. Boy, that must be tough."

Purnell, though telling the truth, was speaking in jest. He has great respect for the Blue Devil program and it's architect, Mike Krzyzweski. But what he didn't say, at least until prompted by reporters, is that this is actually a game where Clemson goes in with a slight advantage in one area - the frontcourt.

Randolph is out 3-4 weeks with mononucleosis. He was the only proven big man on the Duke roster besides Williams.

So Clemson - with senior center Sharrod Ford playing the best basketball of his career, junior power forward Akin Akingbala much improved and freshmen Mays and Perry providing help inside - has a chance to attack the Blue Devils at a vulnerable spot.

"This is a game for someone to rise," Purnell said. "This is a game for Akin Akingbala to step up. If he can play well in support of Sharrod, it would give us a nice lift in that part of the game."

Still, this is Duke.

Despite the losses of Duhon and Deng, despite Randolph's illness, the Blue Devils have yet to lose a game (8-0). Reddick (21.3 points per game), Ewing (17.8) and Williams (15.6) have carried the bulk of the scoring load and are playing as one would expect from Duke veterans.

But remove Randolph's numbers and only two other Duke players average as many as his 6.4 points per game - DeMarcus Nelson (7.6) and Sean Dockery (6.9).

Williams averages 11.6 rebounds per game. Randolph followed at 5.1, leaving the next highest number at 4.6, courtesy of Nelson.

All told, it gives the Tigers a glimmer of hope as Sunday approaches.

Purnell, for one, is ready to take that hope and run.

"This is a chance for a watershed victory for our program," he said. "It won't be easy, but nothing in this conference is."

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