Blue Devils not surprised to see Tigers reach Sweet 16
Omaha, Neb. – Their teams only squared off once this season in the ACC, but Duke’s players left their lone encounter with Clemson impressed by the Tigers.
Ahead of Clemson’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kansas, a pair of potential Blue Devils lottery picks shared their thoughts about one of the ACC’s lesser-known basketball commodities.
A 6-foot-10 freshman forward from Atlanta, Wendell Carter Jr. only made 4 of 14 shots while finishing with 15 points and 10 rebounds in Duke’s 66-57 win at Littlejohn Coliseum, in February. Some people might not have expected to see No. 5 seed Clemson still alive in the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend, but Carter said the Tigers possess winning traits.
“They’re a very physical team and they play together as a team. I think that’s the reason that they’re here and in the Sweet 16,” Carter said. “They just go out and play hard as a team.”
Clemson big Elijah Thomas hit 5 of 13 shots, scored 13 points and came away with 15 rebounds and 3 blocks versus Duke, in a loss.
“He’s a great competitor and that means he does great on the offensive end and defensive end,” Carter said of Thomas, a 6-9 junior who will try and limit Kansas 7-footer Udoka Azubuike. “He goes hard for the whole game.”
Of course, Clemson’s offensive strength lies in its backcourt, with the scoring punch of juniors Shelton Mitchell (12.3 points) and Marcquise Reed (15.9 points), as well as senior Gabe DeVoe (13.7 points).
“I definitely think they’re not viewed upon as the best guards,” Carter said of the trio getting overlooked, “but they’re definitely very strong guards, and they get the job done.”
A knee injury sidelined 6-11 star freshman Marvin Bagley III at Clemson, but he observed from the bench what makes the Tigers (25-9) so solid.
“They’re very athletic and they can block shots. They’re able to get off the ground,” Bagley said. “The whole team was a tough team and it was a physical game to the end. That was something I paid attention to.”
Clemson may lack the basketball name brand recognition of KU (29-7), Duke and Syracuse, but Bagley described coach Brad Brownell’s bunch as great.
“They’re another ACC team that’s made it this far. That goes to show the strength of our conference,” Bagley said, “and the teams that are able to be NCAA teams and go this far.”
Though some experts might not have expected Clemson to be one victory away from an Elite Eight appearance, Bagley said he wasn’t surprised to see the Tigers reach Omaha.
“Me personally, I knew from how they played against us and what they were able to do in our conference,” Bagley said, referring to Clemson tying for third place, “they were a team that was able to get this far.”