As I listened to Brad Brownell at the podium following Saturday’s 72-59 win over 16th-ranked Duke, I couldn’t help noticing what was different.
For the first time in four seasons, Brownell had the full attention of the Clemson fan base.
He certainly seized the moment. He spent a great deal of time making the case for his program and philosophy and chiding fans for inconsistent support. Prior to that, Mike Krzyzewski spent much of his press conference praising Brownell’s coaching acumen and the effort put forth by his team.
If people scoffed previously at Brownell’s attempts to defend the way he does things, maybe hearing it from the all-time winningest coach in college basketball history will do the trick.
The fact is that Clemson did what it does, and it was good enough to beat the preseason pick to win the conference in impressive fashion. Just look at some of the ways the Tigers suffocated the Blue Devils within the context of the season.
In 15 games prior to Saturday, Duke had not been held below 40 percent shooting. Clemson held the Blue Devils to 33.9 percent from the floor—including 25 percent (8-32) after halftime.
Duke’s lowest-scoring half of the season was 32 points in the second half against George Washington. It scored only 22 points in the second half in Littlejohn, going without a field goal for the final 6:23 of game play.
The lowest-scoring game of the season for Duke was a 66-point effort in a loss to Arizona. Clemson held Coach K’s club to seven points less than that.
Clemson dominated on the boards (48-30) and in the paint (38-20), utilizing a tremendous size advantage to the fullest extent possible—even though the Tigers are considered inexperienced in the post this season. The Tigers outscored the Blue Devils 41-22 after halftime.
In the aftermath, there sat Brownell, basking in the glow of his first win in four years that caused the home fans to rush the floor. Make no mistake about it: This was his biggest win at Clemson.
When his first team beat UAB in the NCAA Tournament, people hardly noticed. It was seen as something that should have been happening all along, rather than an important accomplishment in the building of the program. Fans recognized it more for what Brownell’s predecessor didn’t do than for what Brownell actually did, and I don’t blame anyone for that.
That’s the only other win that comes close. And that one was giving something fans felt they were owed.
This was a win over Duke. It’s not a national title contender, but it’s still Duke. This was only Clemson’s 30th win ever against Duke, the first in six attempts. Simply put, it doesn’t happen.
Brownell was 2-14 against ranked opponents at Clemson. Now he is 1-0 this season against them, potentially shedding the image of a program that is competitive but struggles to close the deal in big games.
We might know more about the full context of the win after seeing how the Tigers fare this week in winnable games at Virginia Tech and against Wake Forest. The key is to harness the positive energy created by the win and unleash it on some of the weaker teams in the conference before a brutal road stretch.
This isn’t news to Brownell. He knows the schedule. He knows what he’s up against. None of that mattered as he enjoyed Saturday’s landmark win for his program.
Possibly for the first time in his Clemson tenure, Brownell has an army of fans squarely behind him. That’s what happens when you accomplish something no one saw coming.