No. 11 Clemson likely without guard Mitchell for No. 12 Duke
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson point guard Shelton Mitchell is doubtful with a concussion for the 11th-ranked Tigers game with No.12 Duke, further impacting a roster that has already stretched thin due to injuries.
The surprising Tigers (20-5, 9-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), picked 13th in the 15-team league before the season, are in second place in the league standings largely because of an experienced lineup that has excelled at shutting out distractions on and off the court.
Since the frightening experience last summer when a fatal crash caused chaos outside the team hotel in Barcelona during the team’s trip to Spain, Clemson has pulled itself together to achieve its highest ranking in nine years.
When senior forward Donte Grantham, the team’s second leading scorer, was lost for the year with a torn knee ligament against Notre Dame on Jan. 20, Clemson won four of its next five games including an 82-78 win over North Carolina.
Now, the Tigers must forge on without Mitchell, the junior who has started all 25 games this season. Mitchell was knocked in the head late in an 81-79 overtime loss at Florida State Wednesday. He struggled to stand up and appeared woozy before getting helped off the court.
Mitchell spent a night in a Florida hospital before returning to campus on Thursday.
Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Mitchell was in good spirits, but did not appear capable of playing basketball yet.
“His spirits were good,” Brownell said Friday. “He still wasn’t all the way back normal, but he was doing okay for a guy that’s been through a lot. This won’t be easy.”
It rarely is for Clemson.
The Tigers were expected to achieve big things last year, led by all-ACC forward Jaron Blossingame. Instead, nine of their 12 ACC losses came by six points or less. Clemson got boost of bulk this offseason with additions of Michigan grad transfer Mark Donnal and Valparaiso transfer David Skara.
Skara, though, was hit with a nine-game suspension by the NCAA for an undisclosed violation that occurred while he was at Valparaiso — something that slowed his on-court transition at Clemson.
When Grantham got hurt, Clemson’s thin bench — nine of its reserves have two years or less experience with the Tigers — seemed like it might not hold up in the bulk of ACC play. The emphatic answer came Jan. 30 when Clemson squandered all of a 16-point lead in the second half before rallying to beat the Tar Heels and end a 10-game losing streak to North Carolina.
“We don’t let any of that stuff bother us,” said senior guard Gabe DeVoe, among five Clemson players averaging double figures.
Clemson has a strong resume for NCAA selectors, including wins over Southeastern Conference opponents in Florida and South Carolina, both part of the tournament’s Elite Eight last year. The Tigers are also a perfect 13-0 at home and their next ACC win would be just the sixth time in 64 years they had won double-digit league games.
Mitchell, a Vanderbilt transfer, was the steady hand that kept Clemson cool late in games. He’s also an 83-percent shooter at the foul line as Clemson’s go-to late game guy at the line.
Brownell said Clemson has several options without Mitchell including using players like DeVoe and leading scorer Marcquise Reed to handle the ball more. Freshman Clyde Trapp also figures to see more action in the backcourt as long as Mitchell’s out.
While Duke is certainly the biggest regular-season test — Clemson has not beaten Blue Devils and North Carolina in the same season since 1995-96 — the Tigers have a difficult finishing stretch with games at Virginia Tech and Syracuse, where they are a combined 2-6 since the 200-9-10 season.
Brownell won’t change his message, no matter who’s available. The Tigers have thrived worrying about themselves and not the hurdles out there to jump over.
“What I’ve really been pleased with our guys is our approach,” he said. “There haven’t been many times we have approached the game the right way.”