Free Throws Doom Tigers

CLEMSON – With defenders draped all over them, the Clemson players made incredible shot after incredible shot, regardless of where they were on the floor. However, when standing just 15 feet from the goal with no defender in sight, the Tigers couldn't hit squat.

Clemson shot an unbelievable 6-of-21 from the free throw line, which is the lowest for any Tigers team under coach Oliver Purnell. And as a result, they blew a shot at shocking the nation and pulling off the upset against the best team in the nation.

Conversely, Duke was 29-of-36 from the charity stripe and guard J.J. Redick scored 34 points as the Blue Devils escaped with a 87-77 victory Saturday afternoon in a jammed Littlejohn Coliseum.

"I think it's the first time all year long, even though we're not a great free throw shooting team, I thought that it really cost us," Purnell said. "Our guys aren't happy about it and I'm not happy about it, but it's over."

As a team, Clemson entered the contest shooting 60 percent from the free throw line. At one point Saturday, the Tigers were just 4-of-19.

It stands to reason that even had Clemson (13-4, 2-2 ACC) just managed to shoot its season average from there, the outcome could have been vastly different.

"When you can't make free throws, you're not able to close the gap," said Clemson point guard Vernon Hamilton, who was 2-of-6 from the line. "If we would have made a few more, we might have won the game."

Fouling Clemson was a definite game plan for the Blue Devils (16-0, 4-0 ACC). Instead of hack-a-Shaq, it was hold-a-Tiger.

"You're talking about how poorly they shoot," Redick said. "As a team for the year, I think they're shooting a pretty low percentage and if you take away Shawan (Robinson), their percentage is even lower."

The horrendous free throw shooting overshadowed the game of Hamilton's life. The junior poured in 31 points on 14-of-19 shooting from the field.

From the start, Hamilton knew it was going to be an unusual game. During pregame introductions, he and forward Steven Allen jumped into the air and bumped chests, but the chin of the much taller Allen hit Hamilton and split his head open.

Hamilton immediately went to the locker room, where he received a couple of stitches. He entered the game with 15 minutes left in the half.

When he did get to the court, it immediately became J.J. vs. Vernon.

They matched each other point-for-point, except that Redick garnered 12 of his points from the free throw line, while Hamilton put on a spectacular shooting exhibition.

"Hamilton was incredible," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He hit more leaners than I've ever seen. Does he do that all the time? … I really like that kid. I admire guys who are amazing competitors and that kid's an amazing competitor. From what I see, he's the heart-and-soul of this team and this team has a lot of heart-and-soul. That kid's good."

After trailing 44-38 at the half, Hamilton had his team in position to pull off the upset.

Trailing 64-60 with 9:00 left to play, Clemson had the ball with an opportunity to cut it to two or one, but the Tigers never got a shot off as Robinson was called for carrying the ball.

Duke came down and 13 seconds later, Shelden Williams scored on a dunk to push the lead back to six. Williams finished 17 points and 11 rebounds.

The closest the Tigers would get the rest of the way was five points, which came at 76-71 with 1:55 remaining.

Duke nailed nine of its 10 free throws in the final 1:06 to ice the win.

"That's the hardest any team has played against us this year, and we've had teams play hard against us," Krzyzewski said. "We're not surprised by it. We expected it. … This team played us for 40 minutes, right in our faces and clean and hard, as Oliver's teams would."

Despite the kind words and the Herculean effort, it was little consolation for Purnell.

" I do," he said when asked if he felt like the Tigers let one slip away. "But it's over. That's the way it is. You've got time to redeem yourself in this league."

* Vernon Hamilton scored 31 points as a reserve in today's game. It was the most points scored off the bench by a Clemson player since David Young scored 34 off the bench against Wake Forest on January 12, 1991. That is the Clemson record for points in game off the bench by the way. Hamilton's 31 points today are just the third 30-point game by a non-starter in Clemson history. The other is a 30-point game by Anthony Jenkins against Duke in 1982-83. Thus two of the three 30-point games in Clemson history by a reserve have come against Duke and Coach K.

* Hamilton is the first player in his third year with the program to record his first 20-point game and his first career 30-point game in consecutive games. Hamilton had 21 points, then a career high, in the win over Wake Forest on Wednesday. He followed that with the career high 31-point game today against Duke.

* Hamilton's 31 points were the most by a Tiger in the Oliver Purnell era and the most by any Clemson player since Edward Scott scored 32 at Virginia on Feb. 18, 2003.

* Hamilton made 14-19 shots from the field today, the most made field goals in a game by a Clemson player since Will Solomon had 14 against Virginia on January 15, 2000. *Hamilton is now 87-173 from the field for the season, a .503 figure. No Clemson guard has shot over 50 percent from the field for the course of the season since Michael Tait did it in 1986-87 (.510), the first year of the three-point goal.

* Clemson's free throw shooting today was 6-21, a .286 figure. That is the worst free throw performance by a Clemson team since January 12, 2002 when Clemson was 4-18, .222, in a 41-point loss at Wake Forest.

* Clemson shot 33-61 from the field today, a .541 field goal percentage. That is Clemson's best field goal percentage against Duke since the 1994-95 season. Clemson shot 26-47 for .553 at Duke in a 75-70 win in Cameron Indoor Stadium in 1994-95, Rick Barnes first ACC game as Clemson coach.

* Shawan Robinson scored 17 points today, his high total since he scored 17 against Wofford on December 6. He had three three-point goals, giving him 170 for his career. He moved ahead of Chris Whitney into third place on the all-time Clemson list.

* Cliff Hammonds played 39 minutes without a turnover. It was the most minutes without a turnover in his career and his first game without a turnover this year. His previous best was 32 minutes without a turnover on two occasions last year.

* Clemson's .541 field goal percentage was the best against the Blue Devils all year, ahead of the .516 by Virginia Tech on December 4, 2005. Clemson was just the second team to shoot at least 50 percent against the Blue Devils this year, and the first team all year to shoot over 50 percent in both halves against the Blue Devils.

* J.J. Redick's 34 points were the most against Clemson since B.J. Elder scored 36 for Georgia Tech against the Tigers on Jan. 27, 2004. *Both teams played at a high level in terms off offensive execution today as both teams shot at least 54 percent from the field. That is the first time that has happened in a Clemson game since the 2002-03 season when Clemson and Virginia both shot 55 percent in a 78-77 Clemson victory. Top Stories