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This Year, Clemson Is Challenging History In More Ways Than One

This year, the Tigers aren’t tanking after early success.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 14 Duke at Clemson
 CLEMSON, SC - JANUARY 14: Clemson Tigers forward Ben Middlebrooks (10) shoots a lay up and is fouled by Duke Blue Devils center Ryan Young (15) during a college basketball game between the Duke Blue Devils and the Clemson Tigers on January 14, 2023, at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C.
Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There were times under Cliff Ellis (1985 to 1995) and then Oliver Purnell (2004 through 2010) when Clemson was noted for piling up consecutive victories to open the season. This became a notorious trait, like the Tigers losing at Chapel Hill, in part because the wins came largely against overmatched, nonconference opponents.

The height of those introductory successes was reached under Purnell between 2006 through 2009, when his teams won 11, 17, 10 and 16 times to start the year. Those streaks seemed a bit hollow. Only in 1997, under coach Rick Barnes, did Tiger runs include victories in even 5 straight ACC games, and that not to open play.

Sustaining wins has hardly been a Clemson trait under any circumstances. For instance, they’ve never achieved the three straight victories necessary to secure an ACC Tournament title.

The ACC was 11 years old before the Tigers finished a season with more wins than losses. They didn’t accumulate 20 wins until 1977, didn’t get an NCAA bid until 1980, when the program hit its NCAA highwater mark, advancing to the Elite Eight with three wins. They boasted their sole ACC player of the year, Horace Grant, in 1987. The 1990 season was the first, and last to date, in which Clemson finished first during the ACC regular season; as a bit of a sop the league gave Ellis’ squad an award for ‘winning’ the regular season.

So it was a special moment in the Tigers’ 70-season ACC history when they won their first 7 league games in 2022-23, capped by beating Duke at home on Jan.14. That solidified Clemson’s hold on first place in the league. They followed that triumph with a loss at Wake Forest, then another ACC win at home over Virginia Tech.

The program’s previous best start in the ACC came in 1997 with that 5-win run, ended when a second-ranked Wake Forest team led by Tim Duncan came to Littlejohn Coliseum and edged the No. 4 Tigers on Jan. 23 amid a rare national media crunch.

Clemson trailed by 8 at halftime in that ’97 contest, shooting .333 in the period compared to .600 for Wake. The Tigers spent the last 28 and a half minutes of the game vainly trying to catch up, repeatedly pulling within a basket down the stretch behind second team All-ACC forward Greg Buckner.

TIGERS ON A ROLL
Most Consecutive Wins By Clemson To Open League Play
Season ACC Wins
To Open
Best Run All Games,
Same Season
Total
Wins
ACC Finish
2023 7 7 TBD TBD
1997 5 12 23 4-tie
1987 4 17 25 2
2021 3 5 16 5
2018 3 4 25 3-tie
2007 3 17 25 8-tie
1980 3 8 23 4