Clemson's storybook start to ACC play continued with a statement victory Saturday as the Tigers took down No. 24 Duke 72-64 to improve to 15-3 (7-0 ACC) after they were picked to finish 11th in the league's preseason poll. PJ Hall led the host Tigers with 26 points as Clemson overcame a 34-30 halftime deficit to drop Duke (13-5, 4-3) to 1-3 in ACC road games under first-year coach Jon Scheyer.
Duke played without starting point guard Jeremy Roach for a third straight game as he continued to deal with a toe injury. His absence proved manageable in wins over Boston College and Pittsburgh but appeared impactful in the second half on Saturday in a hostile environment.
Though freshman guard Tyrese Proctor turned in one of the best performances of his career to date with 17 points, the Blue Devils went cold down the stretch as Clemson used a 12-3 run to turn a 54-53 deficit into a 65-57 lead with 1:25 to play.
Clemson entered the day as the ACC's only unbeaten squad in league play and emerges from the fray with a two-game lead in the early conference race after No. 16 Miami lost at NC State for its second defeat in ACC action. The victory also marked the 400th career win for 13th-year coach Brad Brownell, who continued the program's best-ever ACC start.
Soak it in, Clemson family! 🧡🤍 pic.twitter.com/7l9lEL7nYQ— Clemson Basketball (@ClemsonMBB) January 15, 2023
Hall has himself a game
Clemson finished 17-16 (8-12 ACC) last season and there was little about the program's offseason that suggested a major turnaround was in store. The outlook only grew cloudier when Hall, the team's leading scorer, underwent knee surgery over the summer. Hall's minutes have decreased amid his return from the injury, and he is no longer the team's leading scorer. But he turned in a legendary performance against the Blue Devils amid an off day for leading scorers Hunter Tyson and Chase Hunter.
Hall's 26 points against the Blue Devils were two short of a career high. He carried the Tigers with 18 points in the first half on Saturday until Brevin Galloway got hot in the second half, scoring 12 of his 17 after the break.
Brownell entered Saturday's action with a 57.9% winning percentage and a 109-111 record in ACC games during his time at Clemson. He is the program's all-time leader in wins but was sliding onto the hot seat entering this season, having advanced in the NCAA Tournament just once in three appearances during his tenure.
Clemson was only a projected No. 11 seed in the projected NCAA Tournament field of CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm entering Saturday's action. But after Saturday's result, the Tigers must be regarded as a threat in the ACC title race and are doubtlessly on an NCAA Tournament trajectory. There is no rematch with Duke for Clemson, and the Tigers only play North Carolina and Virginia once each, meaning this team has a legitimate chance to win its first-ever ACC regular-season title. Brownell is coaching his way off the hot seat, and Saturday's win was surely a sweet way for the former UNC Wilmington and Wright State coach to reach the 400-win milestone.
All five of Duke's losses this season have come away from home, and the Blue Devils' only true road win is against a mediocre Boston College team. If Duke is going to compete for anything of substance in Scheyer's first season, they need to get better away from Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Getting Roach back will help, though no sure timetable has been set for his return. The junior floor general is the only player on the Duke roster who was part of the regular rotation for the Blue Devils last season and the only one who has been through the ACC grind before. The Blue Devils made just 3 of 20 attempts from 3-point range against Clemson and were 0 for 12 from deep in the second half.