Duke sophomore Matt Hurt met with the media Friday afternoon to discuss Saturday’s game with the suddenly-resurgent Clemson Tigers.
Clemson has had an unusual season—who hasn’t? Clemson jumped to a 7-1 start and reached 12th in the AP poll. Then the Tigers lost three straight, by margins of 35, 18 and 19 points.
Not so fast. Clemson righted the ship Wednesday night with a 54-50 win over Louisville, the same Louisville team that took down Duke last Saturday.
Nine different Tigers have started at least two games this season but seniors Aamir Sims and Clyde Trapp provide experience and stability.
Sims is Clemson’s best player, averaging 12 points and six rebounds per game, while shooting 53 percent from the field.
Hurt says Duke remembers Sims hurting Duke with 25 points and nine rebounds last season in a 79-72 Clemson win.
The key is to control Sims with the right balance of attention.
“He’s going to be a key matchup for us. We’ve just got to stay home on the shooters and try to play good defense. They’re going to make tough shots, but we’re just going to try to make it hard for them.”
Hurt said he expects Clemson to be physical at the start and said Duke has to match that.
The key is “not trying to get punked. Just try to be aggressive at the start . . if we’re aggressive at the start, they’ll feel us early.”
Hurt may not the only Devil to defend Sims inside. Freshman Mark Williams gave Duke 13 solid minutes against Georgia Tech Tuesday night and seems to be on an upward trend. The better the seven-footer plays, the more able Hurt is to play on the perimeter, both offensively and defensively.
“Mark’s a hard worker,” Hurt said. “He’s up early in the morning with coach [Nate] James, getting extra work in every day last week. I think him getting extra work, having more confidence, learning more about the game and how to play at a college level – he’s still learning but he’s also getting better. He helps me because he’s a great rim protector and it gives me a lot more confidence to play better perimeter defense.”
Speaking of defense, Hurt played 38 minutes against Georgia Tech without committing a single foul, a stark contrast with some foul-plagued earlier games.
It didn’t just happen by accident.
“Just watching the film, getting with the coaches and understanding how teams are going to attack me and make me commit fouls . . . learning more about the game and about the angles.”
Hurt also talked about his improved rebounding. He averaged 7.3 rebounds per 40 minutes last season, 9.5 so far this season.
“I’ve added some muscle since last year and also my mindset is being more aggressive and being tougher to go in on rebounds, to go up with two hands and try to get all the rebounds that I can. Especially as a team, just getting more rebounds. I think having the right mindset going into every game, trying to go up with two hands and just trying to get a body on everyone on every possession.”
Hurt acknowledged that the team is aware of the criticism but dismisses it as “outside noise,” adding that the team is trying to “block that out and do what the coaches say, keep working.”
It’s still a work in progress. “It’s a long season. . . . I think we’re getting better. I don’t think we’re there yet.”
Putting up a win tomorrow will be a big step towards getting there. But Duke will need the toughness and effort referenced by Hurt to make that happen.