Ultimate Challenge Awaits Sunday

After an incredible 9-0 start to the 2002-03 regular season, the Tigers will get a heavy dose of reality starting Sunday night when the #1 ranked Duke Blue Devils stroll into newly renovated Littlejohn Coliseum. The game, scheduled for tipoff at 8 PM, will be televised nationally by Fox Sports Net.

Simply put, Larry Shyatt couldn't have asked for a better start in his fifth season as the head basketball coach at Clemson University. After falling short of the goal more times than not during the early part of the season in each of the past 4 years, his team made it through the "cupcake" portion of this year's schedule without a loss.

But this season, the Tigers just didn't take do it against the Maine's, Gardner-Webb's, and Coastal Carolina's of the world, they also took care of business against a traditional basketball power in the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Clemson will have to draw upon that experience and a whole lot more to have a chance Sunday night against the top ranked Duke Blue Devils.

"We are talking about a team that has had six lottery picks in the last couple of years," said Shyatt. "They've always had a great balance of experienced ACC players, but they also have a great blend of young talent. They really separate themselves from the rest of the teams in the country."

Duke comes into the newly renovated Littlejohn Coliseum riding an 8 game winning streak themselves, and while the Blue Devils may have lost the likes of Carlos Boozer, Jason Williams, and Mike Dunleavy to the NBA, the talent level is clearly still in their favor.

"For us, we have to make sure they can't accumulate points in transition. That's still where they are absolutely their best. They score off their defense and they score off in transition by virtue of passing and dribbling the ball up the court- fast," said Shyatt.

Duke comes into this one averaging 89.2 points per game and has been getting significant scoring several players.

Through the first 8 games of the regular season, eight Blue Devils are averaging five or more points per game, including the team leader J.J. Redick with 15.8 points, Dahntay Jones (15.0), Daniel Ewing (11.6), Chris Duhon (10.3) and Shavlik Randolph (10.0).

Clemson comes in led in scoring by point guard Ed Scott, one of the top-returning players in the ACC this year. Scott leads the way with 18.4 points and 6.6 assists per game. Chey Christie is second on the team at 12.8 points per game and Sharrod Ford leads the team in rebounding with a 7.6 mark.

The Tigers' improvement has been in large part to their defense and shot selection. Clemson comes into this game as the top shooting team in the Atlantic Coast Conference, with a field goal percentage of just over 50%. The Tigers also are second in 3-point percentage and second in rebounding margin as well.

"We need to find a nice combination offensively of an inside and an outside attack Sunday night, but to do that against the pressure that Duke is going to apply is going to be extremely difficult," said Shyatt.

Defensively, Clemson is limiting the opposition to just 40% from the floor, and 32% from 3-point range. The Tigers have also made 37 more free throws than their opponents have even attempted this year.

Other Notes
* The Blue Devils handed the Tigers their first loss of the ACC regular season last year in a 96-80 loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke also escaped Littlejohn with a 98-88 win in a game that saw the Tigers rally from a 15-point second half deficit to pull within 1 with only 5 minutes remaining. Jason Williams and Mike Dunleavy then keyed a 10-0 run to help seal the deal.

* Duke is 34-15 in ACC openers, including 6-0 in their last 6 years. In fact, the Blue Devils last loss in a league opener came at Clemson on January 3, 1996. The 22nd-ranked Tigers topped 19th-ranked Duke, 51-48 in that contest.

* Duke has won 13 games in a row over Clemson with the Tigers' last win coming in an 86-82 overtime victory in Littlejohn back in 1997. Each of the last 9 contests played between these two schools has seen Duke win by at least 10 points.

* In each of the last two times that Duke has entered a game undefeated against Clemson the Tigers have proved victorious. The two Clemson victories occurred in back-to-back years in 1995 and 1996.

* Duke has won at least 12 regular season games in the ACC for six consecutive seasons, becoming the first team in league history to accomplish that standard of excellence. To illustrate how difficult this is to achieve, the longest stretch of 10 or more victories in succession in ACC history was seven straight years by North Carolina from 1993-99.

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