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Blue Devils shoot to surpass Tigers in ACC

The last time Duke lost to Clemson was in 1997-a span that covers 19 meetings between the two teams.

Since that time, no ACC squad has won fewer games in the conference than the Tigers, while no team has won more than the Blue Devils.

This season has been different for the ACC's traditional cellar dwellers, though. No. 19 Clemson (18-2, 4-2 in the ACC) has climbed into the national rankings for the first time in eight seasons and finds itself ahead of the 10th-ranked Blue Devils (16-3, 3-2) in the conference standings.

That could change tonight, however, as Duke, which has begun to find its offensive rhythm to complement its already strong defense, can pass Clemson and move into fourth place in the ACC with a win. The game tips off at 7 p.m. in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The Blue Devils got a taste of the Tigers' potential last season when Clemson guard Vernon Hamilton scored 31 points to help keep a Duke victory in doubt until the final minutes. Had it not been for the Tigers' abysmal free throw shooting-they went 6-for-21 from the charity stripe-Clemson might have been able to pull off the unlikely upset, but instead they fell 87-77.

"Hamilton had a strong game last year against us," Greg Paulus said. "We know he's quick, he can shoot it, he can drive. He also plays great defense, puts good ball pressure on it. He can do a little bit of everything himself."

In addition to the speedy backcourt of Hamilton, Cliff Hammonds and leading scorer K.C. Rivers-who comes off the bench-the Blue Devils will also have to contend with 6-foot-9 big man James Mays. Mays missed last year's contest against Duke after being ruled academically ineligible for the second semester, but when he has been on the court, the Tigers are 29-2 over the past two seasons.

The Clemson guards are effective at penetrating the lane where they can create for teammates or pull up for midrange jumpers. Last year, their ability to get inside and nail floaters kept the Duke defense off balance and the score close.

"[Hamilton] got to the paint, and we're going to need to keep them out," Paulus said. "When they get to the paint, the big guys play off them so well with alley-oops, and they've got the guys spotting up for threes."

Duke, which is holding its opponents to a league-best 55.3 points per game, has played some of its best defense over the past two games, with neither opponent scoring more than 56 points. Gerald Henderson attributed the team's stingier defense to he and his freshmen classmates getting acclimated to ACC basketball.

"I was not prepared for the intensity that we play defense and the pressure that we deal with," he said. "It's a lot different than high school. Not even a lot of teams play defense like we do at college. It's very rare."

The freshmen's comfort is also helping the team run its motion offense with much greater success. DeMarcus Nelson said it is a system that requires players to make reads, and while the talent has been there all season, it has taken longer to get to a point where they can attack out of the offense.

Still, not turning the ball over-as Duke has been prone to do at times this year-will be crucial against the Tigers, who like to use full-court pressure and lead the ACC in steals.

"We know they like to press, we know they like to trap," Paulus said. "They force a lot of turnovers off that. We've got to be strong with it. If we score off it, we score off it. If not, we've got to set something up and not let their pressure and their tempo affect what we do."

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