Big Test Awaits Tigers

CLEMSON – For one of the few times in the last 12 years, Clemson has a real shot of winning a basketball game at Duke University. However, if the Tigers are to gain their first win in front of the Cameron Crazies since 1995, they obviously have to play at the top of their game, which also includes making free throws.

What: No. 17 Clemson (18-2, 4-2 ACC) at No. 10 Duke (16-3, 3-2 ACC)
Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium
When: 7 p.m., Thursday

For the second straight year, Clemson is woefully bad from the charity stripe. Out of 325 Division I teams, the Tigers rank 321st, having made just 57.8 percent of their free throws.

Remarkably, what's worse is Clemson's free throw shooting in ACC games. It has made 41-of-87 free throws in six conference games, which equates to 47.1 percent.

It was trouble making free throws that doomed the Tigers last year from pulling off the upset against a much better Duke team.

"Last year against Duke, I think it really came to bite us a little bit," Clemson junior forward Sam Perry said. "We've definitely got to shoot free throws better, because games in any league come down to free throws – last second fouls and things of that nature.

"It's going to come a game in this league where we're going to be on the free throw line down one, up one, and we're definitely going to need it."

While making more free throws may have helped Clemson beat Maryland, missing so many hasn't yet to comeback and haunt the Tigers like it did so many times last year.

One has to wonder when it goes from being a physical problem to a mental issue.

"It could be both," junior forward James Mays said. "I think sometimes we let the media play in our head with the shooting percentage, and then sometimes we don't go to the line and focus the way we should.

"Playing a team like Duke at home, it's going to be very crucial for us to shoot well – especially to be able to knock down our free throws."

There are two reasons why the free throws are coming under intense scrutiny: because the percentage is so bad and because this is a good team and it would be a shame to lose a big game because of the inability to make an unguarded 15-foot shot.

Provided the free throws aren't an issue Thursday night, the Tigers will have a legitimate shot of winning. This isn't the same Duke team that it was last year or in the previous 10 years.

There isn't much athleticism or speed and scoring is an issue for the Blue Devils. Last season, Clemson point guard Vernon Hamilton blistered guard Greg Paulus. Many a point guard has done the same thing this year.

"They're not just this tough, big team that we can't beat," Perry said. "But at the same time, Cameron is a tough place to play. But as we all like to say, we put our shorts on the same way. We're just going to go out there and battle. …

"I'd definitely say it's a different look not to have to chase around J.J. (Redick) or not to go in the hole and Shelden Williams is waiting for you. It's definitely a different look. They're a different team. It's a good look for us to go and play them."

What's also unique about this meeting is that the Tigers believe they should win. Two years ago, which is the last time they played at Duke, their goal was more or less just to keep it close.

"We're at a different place in our program," head coach Oliver Purnell said. "Our expectation level is totally different now, and that's just part of growing. … Our expectation is to win now."

No. 17 Clemson (18-2, 4-2 ACC)
G 3 Vernon Hamilton (6-0, 195) 11.8 ppg, 3.8 apg
G 25 Cliff Hammonds (6-3, 197) 11.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg
C 35 Trevor Booker (6-7, 215) 9.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg
F 32 Sam Perry (6-5, 208) 5.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg
F 40 James Mays (6-9, 222) 13.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg

No. 10 Duke (16-3, 3-2 ACC)
G 3 Greg Paulus (6-1, 180) 8.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg
G 21 DeMarcus Nelson (6-4, 200) 14.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg
C 2 Josh McRoberts (6-10, 240) 12.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg
G 30 Jon Scheyer (6-5, 180) 12.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg
F 42 Lance Thomas (6-8, 215) 4.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg Top Stories