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X-Factor: DJ Steward will have to be efficient if Duke is to beat Clemson

The freshman out of Chicago is looking to establish himself as a go-to scorer for the Blue Devils.
The freshman out of Chicago is looking to establish himself as a go-to scorer for the Blue Devils.

Following the 75 - 68 win over Georgia Tech on Tuesday, the Blue Devils set their sights on the next ACC opponent in Clemson. This marks the first meeting of these two teams in over a year, where Clemson took the lead late to upset then-No. 3 Duke. While both teams have stumbled as of late, this game serves as a test for both to convey their perseverance. Look for these players to make the difference:

Duke: DJ Steward

DJ Steward, a freshman guard from Chicago, Illinois, is coming off arguably one of his best games as a Blue Devil. Leading the team in points with 19, he also amassed five rebounds and went a perfect 6 for 6 at the free throw line in nearly 38 minutes on the court. While these stats are enough to consider Steward a staple of the Duke lineup, perhaps his intangibles are what make him so invaluable to the team’s makeup. Since his college debut against Coppin St., where he exploded onto the scene with 24 points, Steward had taken time to grow to the expectations set in place for him. Now, with quality shooting performances against Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, where he shot .533 and .417, respectively, Steward has elevated the Duke offense to become a greater and more confident threat. 

Standing at 6’2” and weighing in at 163 pounds, Steward’s physique models former Duke greats like Tre Jones and Kyrie Irving. Whereas Steward’s play has morphed to encompass a “shoot first” mentality, over the next few months, his skill will continue to allow him to envelope more responsibility on the offensive side of the court. Throughout ACC play, Steward is averaging 14.7 points and five rebounds a game in a bit over 34 minutes a game. His season stats are quite mis-leading, as a few key bad games have hindered his shooting percentages across the board. As his shooting percentages continue to climb, watch for DJ Steward to make a big offensive impact against Clemson.

Clemson: Aamir Simms

In Clemson’s last contest against Duke, Aamir Simms scored a career high 25 points in route to a Tiger upset. The 6’8” Clemson senior is averaging  12 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.4 assists a game this year, and has been a major component to a mature and confident Clemson team. The obvious energy creator of the team, he comes across as arrogant to most opponents but is loved among his fans. Regardless of his in game antics, it is clear that Duke will need to stifle him early if they hope to pull off a second straight win.

Clemson’s season has been full of streaks. Beginning the season 9-1, the Tigers were considered one of the, if not the best, team in the ACC, and sat as the 12th best team in the AP poll. While they have since lost three of their last four games, this team continues to show that they compete, with somewhat inconsistency, with anyone. For Duke to win, they must not only stop the Orange's best player in Simms, but stop the team as a whole. 

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