CLEMSON, S.C. – Clemson’s Trevor Booker wondered all season long when people would finally start believing in the Tigers. After the big win over No. 4 Duke, he’s not wondering anymore.
“I know a lot of people saw this game and know we’re for real now,” Booker said.
It’s hard to argue with the 6-foot-7 power forward.
The 10th-ranked Tigers routed the Blue Devils 74-47 on Wednesday night, Duke’s worst defeat since a 30-point loss to UNLV in the 1990 NCAA title game. The victory was Clemson’s second in a row over Duke, a back-to-back occurrence that last happened in the 1995 and 1996 seasons.
It may have also been the most emphatic statement yet that Clemson’s not the team it used to be.
In most of coach Oliver Purnell’s six seasons, the Tigers were known for quick, perfect starts and solid routs over midmajor foes. When it got to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Clemson always collapsed.
The most dramatic example came two years ago when the Tigers were the country’s last Division I unbeaten at 17-0 and serious threats to break into the ACC’s top tier.
Instead, Clemson lost nine of its next 11 games and went from surefire lock for the NCAA tournament in January to NIT participant in March.
Even last year’s highlights of playing for an ACC tournament title for the first time since 1962 or making their first NCAA tournament since 1998 didn’t seem as bright after the Tigers, a fifth seed, lost to Villanova in the first round of the NCAAs.
So when Clemson followed its 16-0 start this season with defeats to Wake Forest and North Carolina, some in the college basketball world chortled about the “same old Tigers.”
“We’re a different team,” Clemson swingman David Potter said. “From two years ago, from a year, we’re not the same.”
The Duke game was just the latest example.
Last week, Clemson wiped out Virginia Tech’s 15-point, second half lead to win 86-82.
Purnell liked his team’s composure and willingness to stick with its plan, even as the Hokies sprinted out of the gates.
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