'Angry' Duke basketball squad readies for rematch with Clemson

After a 72-59 road loss to Clemson Jan. 11, the Blue Devils will have a second shot at the Tigers in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.
After a 72-59 road loss to Clemson Jan. 11, the Blue Devils will have a second shot at the Tigers in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.

A normally level-headed bunch, the Blue Devils found their answer after a demoralizing road loss to Wake Forest—they had to play angry.

Duke responded by closing out the regular season with a 93-81 victory against North Carolina, giving the Blue Devils the third seed in this week's ACC tournament. The first game sophomore forward Amile Jefferson mentioned when asked about the fuel for that fire was a loss to Clemson Jan. 11 that dropped Duke to 1-2 in ACC play.

The Blue Devils will have a chance to avenge that loss when they take on the sixth-seeded Tigers Friday at 9:30 p.m. in the ACC quarterfinals at the Greensboro Coliseum.

"We have to be angry and think about those losses we took and let those fuel us into not wanting to have that feeling again," Jefferson said. "Remembering when we didn't block out hard, when didn't protect our paint, when we didn't play for each other—and let that be reminders for us that when we do that, we can be a really good basketball team.”

Redshirt sophomore Rodney Hood scored 20 points in Duke's Jan. 11 loss to Clemson.
Clemson (20-11, 10-8 in the ACC) earned a date with the Blue Devils (24-7, 13-5) with a 69-65 overtime victory against 11th-seeded Georgia Tech Thursday night. Although the Tigers represent the higher-seeded of Duke's two possible opponents, a rematch with Clemson provides the Blue Devils with some added motivation heading into postseason play.

Instead of playing a Yellow Jacket squad Duke had defeated twice already this season, the Blue Devils will take on a team it can only associate with a road loss that continues to sting two months later.

“At a certain point, you get tired of sitting in the locker room quiet with guys disappointed in how they played," redshirt sophomore Rodney Hood said. "Right now we’re at a time when we don’t have any do-overs.”

"We didn't want that to happen anymore. We banded together as a team and we said, ‘Not again.’” —Amile Jefferson

Leading scorer K.J. McDaniels was a menace when his Tigers topped Duke early in the season, scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Battling an injury to his left shoulder, McDaniels did not bring his shooting stroke for Clemson's second-round matchup against the Yellow Jackets, hitting just 4-of-15 attempts from the field. A 10-of-11 evening from the charity stripe allowed McDaniels to finish with 18 points, but the Blue Devils would be more than willing to let the first-team All-ACC selection repeat Thursday's performance in Friday's rematch.

Duke's solution of playing angry lies in contrast to the positive energy the team feeds off when playing its home games at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils went a perfect 17-0 at home this year, managing a record of 7-7 on the road and in neutral site games.

With postseason play looming, there will be no more home games for Duke—and if a chance at revenge doesn't fuel the Blue Devils, there is always last year's early ACC tournament exit at the hands of Maryland.

“This tournament for us is really big. Going out in the first round was something that we definitely weren't proud of," Jefferson said. "This year we have our mind set on winning a championship."

Duke held North Carolina to just 20 rebounds Saturday, the Tar Heels' lowest single-game total since 1987.
Duke failed to stop a physical Clemson squad on the inside in the teams' first meeting, losing the rebounding battle 48-30. The Blue Devils have since refocused their attention to the glass, and recently dominated North Carolina in the rebounding battle, holding a Tar Heel squad that ranks 10th in the nation in rebounding to just 20 boards, which is half its season average.

"I don’t know that either team is playing the way we did in January," Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said after Thursday's victory against Georgia Tech. "Hopefully we’re both playing better. I certainly think Duke is."

Freshman Jabari Parker scored a career-high 30 points and added 11 rebounds in Duke's victory against North Carolina.
Just as the Blue Devils sought to put crushing losses to Clemson, Notre Dame, Syracuse and North Carolina behind them, Duke will now try to leave one of its best performances of the season in the rearview mirror as it enters the conference tournament. Highlighting the Blue Devils' dominance of the Tar Heels in their regular-season finale was a combined 54 points from Hood and freshman Jabari Parker, who each topped 20 points in the same game for the first time since November.

Anger has not been a staple of Duke teams of the past. Will it be the secret ingredient to the Blue Devils' success this March? The team's first step will be to kick off postseason play by conquering demons that have haunted them since the beginning of its ACC schedule.

“I think it’s something new for our group because we've had times after tough losses where guys just hurt, and we didn't want that to happen anymore," Jefferson said. "We banded together as a team and we said, ‘Not again.’”


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