Is Clemson…a basketball school?
One night after No. 3 Clemson lost in the College Football Playoff National Championship to No. 1 LSU, Tigers fans were storming the court at Littlejohn Coliseum after their men’s basketball team upset No. 3 Duke 79-72.
It was the program’s first win against a top-three opponent since 2001.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) January 15, 2020
Before Tuesday night, Clemson had never beaten Duke and North Carolina in consecutive games and it hadn’t beaten the two blue bloods in the same season since the 1995-96 campaign. In three games this month, Clemson has now beaten NC State, North Carolina and Duke in succession, despite entering January with a 6-7 record.
Here are three takeaways from Clemson’s latest upset.
This wasn’t a fluke
In a lot of single-digit losses in college basketball — upset or not — you can probably look at the box score and point to one or two stats that can tell you why the game resulted in a certain outcome, at least from a 10,000-foot view.
Maybe the winning team shot 55 percent from 3 and made 12 of them.
Maybe the losing team shot an uncharacteristic 40 percent from the free throw line and left 12 points at the line.
Maybe the losing team committed 20 turnovers and the winning team had just six.
But this wasn’t a flukey win for Clemson or a flukey loss for Duke.
Clemson shot 56 percent to Duke’s 50. The Tigers made 8-of-19 3-point attempts, while the Blue Devils were 8-of-20.
Neither team shot the ball well from the free throw line. Both finished at 50 percent with Duke taking 20 free throws and Clemson attempting 22.
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Clemson won the battle of the boards with 31 to Duke’s 27. The Tigers had two more offensive rebounds and two more defensive rebounds. The victorious Tigers had 16 turnovers to the Blue Devils’ 15.
The two sides were fairly even but Clemson won on the margins. The Tigers picked the right time to have their best 2-point shooting percentage of the season (54.3 percent — their seventh game above 50 percent) and third-best 3-point percentage (36.9 percent — their seventh game above 35 percent).
Duke’s national player of the year candidate, freshman center Vernon Carey Jr., had 20 points, seven rebounds and two assists on an efficient 8-of-14 shooting night.
Tre Jones (17 points) and Cassius Stanley (14 points) also reached double figures, so while, yes, Duke fans can point to Matthew Hurt (11.2 points per game) having just two points on one field goal attempt in 15 minutes, Carey had help in the scoring department. It was Hurt’s quietest game of the season, other than being held scoreless on 0-of-4 shooting in five minutes against Georgetown.
If anything, Hurt’s two-point game was magnified by the fact that Duke was without Joey Baker (ankle) and Wendell Moore (hand). So with a limited rotation, the Blue Devils can ill-afford to have one of its top scoring options to have an off night.
John Newman III’s daring 3-pointer
File this shot away in the Ali Farokhmanesh folder of early shot-clock daggers. Sure, the stakes were much lower and Clemson’s lead was bigger but one of the easiest ways to blow a late lead is by taking a 3-pointer early in the shot clock rather than draining the clock.
After Duke’s Jordan Goldwire made a 3 to cut Clemson’s lead to five points at 73-68 with just over two minutes left, the Tigers beat the Blue Devils’ full-court press and Curran Scott found John Newman III in the corner.
Newman, who was standing in front of his team’s bench and entered the game as a 32.6 percent 3-point shooter, fired away a corner 3. If he misses the shot, Duke likely gets the ball back, down five, and nearly two minutes left.
But Newman made the shot, extending Clemson’s lead to eight points — a three-possession lead. Duke had five more offensive possessions the rest of the game so for the Blue Devils to make up a three-possession lead in five possessions isn’t mathematically impossible but highly unlikely. Clemson’s players recognized that as a live look-in from the broadcast to the Tigers’ team huddle during a timeout showed a player telling the rest of the team they just needed to get two more stops in a row.
If anything, Newman’s clutch 3 was symbolic of the Tigers’ offense down the stretch. They made seven of their final eight shots, to hold off a potential Blue Devils comeback.
Let’s talk resumes
Clemson earned its first Quadrant 1 win (and a high-end Quadrant 1 win, at that) by beating Duke. The Tigers are now 1-3 in Quadrant 1 and 3-2 in Quadrant 2 after Tuesday, and three of those four wins have come in the last 11 days.
After an 0-3 start in ACC play, Clemson is now 3-3 and tied for seventh. The Tigers still have work to do to get into the 2020 NCAA tournament, especially with two Quadrant 3 losses, but their hot start in 2020 has given them hope that they can make the field of 68 if they can continue to add wins in conference play, especially ones of the Quadrant 1 variety.
As for Duke, which entered the day ranked No. 3 in the NET and No. 1 in the BPI, kenpom.com and Sagarin ratings, this was just the Blue Devils’ second loss of the season. Neither is in Quadrant 1 with their loss to Stephen F. Austin falling under Quadrant 3 and the defeat to the Tigers going in Quadrant 2.
Duke, and its resume, is still good, but those are two losses that could having seeding implications in March, especially depending on how many losses the Blue Devils finish with and who else they might lose to.