CLEMSON — Junior forward Trevor Booker beat his chest as he stomped down the floor, the Clemson faithful reveling in the second-half pageantry engulfing Littlejohn Coliseum.
When the Tigers stunned Duke in the ACC tournament semifinals a year ago, guard K.C. Rivers described it as a defining moment in the program’s rebirth.
Tenth-ranked Clemson proved the merit of Rivers’ statement with a 74-47 triumph against the No. 4 Blue Devils in front a raucous capacity crowd Wednesday night.
“I know a lot of people saw this game and know we’re for real now,” Booker said.
Booker led the onslaught with an overpowering 21-point, eight-rebound performance as the Tigers (19-2, 5-2 ACC) pulled within a half-game of the conference lead.
Sophomore guard Terrence Oglesby had 17 points on five 3-pointers while Rivers tallied 11 points, seven rebounds and matched a school record with seven steals.
Having been defeated handily in a pair of top-10 showdowns against North Carolina and Wake Forest the previous three weeks, Clemson found its magic in front of a national television audience.
The 27-point loss was the worst for the first-place Blue Devils (19-3, 6-2) since they fell by 30 to UNLV in the 1990 national championship.
Only once in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 29 seasons has Duke scored fewer points — a 40-36 loss to Maryland in 1982. And it was also the team’s lowest point total since Clemson’s 51-44 triumph against the Pete Gaudet-coached squad in 1995 — 14 years ago to the date.
“I’ve said all along you get better as a team by taking lessons from seasons before, from games before,” coach Oliver Purnell said. “You’d like all those lessons to be positive, but sometimes you have to take them from losses.
“That really applied tonight. We were ready for this atmosphere. We embraced it, but yet we narrowed our focus to what we needed to do to beat Duke, then just kind of rode the crowd as the game went along.”
Clemson’s win marked the program’s seventh victory against a top-five opponent since 1980 and first since 2001’s home upset of No. 1 North Carolina.
Clemson hadn’t prevailed in a matchup of top-10 teams since beating No. 7 Maryland in 1997.
After snapping a 22-game series losing streak last season, the Tigers now have consecutive wins against Duke for the first time since the mid 1990’s.
“There wasn’t momentum,” Krzyzewski said. “It was 40 minutes of dominating. They kicked our butt.
“We had no chance of winning this game. None. ... We don’t lose games like this very often.”
The stunning display was set off by a Clemson defense that had been a sieve in recent contests.
Junior wing Gerald Henderson had 16 points for Duke, which shot a season-low 30.8 percent and got little else from anyone.
Guard Jon Scheyer, the team’s leading scorer coming in, managed just three points on 1-for-8 shooting. Forward Kyle Singler, arguably one of the toughest mismatches in the league, netted six points on 2-for-8.
The Blue Devils tallied 16 turnovers to just seven assists while generating few open-looks from 3-point range, which Purnell credited to the Tigers’ harassing half-court defense.
Reserve swingman David Potter said Clemson gained the confidence to beat Duke after last year’s semifinal upset, and the team watched tape of that contest as reinforcement earlier this week.
“Duke’s a great team,” Oglesby said. “But we’re starting to consider ourselves at the top of the conference.”