CLEMSON, S.C. -- There's something about Littlejohn Coliseum and the sight of Duke uniforms that stoke the fires in Clemson's basketball team, no matter what type of season it has going.
It happened again last night.
But this time, the Tigers also turned up the flame in the Blue Devils, challenging point guard Bobby Hurley and eventually paying for it in a 93-84 Duke victory.
The win was the fifth in a row for the third-ranked Blue Devils (18-3, 6-3 in the ACC). It brought at least a temporary interruption in a turnaround stretch for the Tigers (12-7, 2-7), who had won three of their previous four.
The Blue Devils usually have to come into Littlejohn bracing for a fight -- Clemson has won three of the past six games in the arena against Duke and for long stretches last night was threatening to do the same thing.
That was before reserve guard Lou Richie, a transfer from UCLA, made a little too much of a steal from Hurley and a subsequent basket that put Clemson ahead 54-52 with 13 minutes remaining.
Richie started barking repeatedly at Hurley.
It was Hurley's mistake at the moment, but Richie's mistake for the night.
"Those kinds of things usually light a fire under me," said Hurley, who scored 14 of his 21 points down the stretch in a comeback win.
"He was saying I couldn't dribble the ball up against him . . . He was saying he took the ball from me, which he did.
"I didn't say anything. I just kind of smiled a little bit and I guess he knew what I was thinking. I just said to myself, 'Well, I'll shoot over you.'
"I was able to get him back a little bit with some three-pointers."
It proved to be more than "a little bit." Richie had another moment in the spotlight, hitting a three-pointer with 12:18 left to put the Tigers ahead 57-54.
At that time, it looked like just more of the same in a game that was more like a furious war raging, from start to finish.
There had been repeated ties and lead changes for almost 30 of the 40 minutes.
But after Richie's three-pointer, Hurley answered. And answered. And answered.
He tied it at 57 with a bonus shot of his own, then drew a foul from Richie and hit two free throws before drilling another three-pointer. All of a sudden a beauty of a battle was turning a little one-sided.
The Blue Devils rode Hurley's explosion to a 14-3 run, opening a 68-60 lead with 8:05 to play. The Tigers had a brief charge to trim it to three, but could come no closer as Duke hit almost all the key free throws down the stretch.
Hurley finished with five-of-eight shooting, all from three-point range, and six-of-six accuracy at the line. He also had six rebounds and five assists, offsetting five turnovers.
Grant Hill scored 25 to pace Duke, getting 13 points at the free-throw line.
Baltimore's Devin Gray (10-of-14 shooting, 22 points), center Sharone Wright (21 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks) and forward Jeff Brown (19 points, seven rebounds) highlighted a super-charged effort from the Tigers. They shot 49.3 percent from the field, the best percentage this season against Duke's consistently stingy defense.
The Blue Devils hit 54.9 percent from the field.
Hurley's late flurry of points and his take-charge passing represented a turnaround from what he and coach Mike Krzyzewski thought was a sub-par first half.
"Bobby made some big plays in the second half, but his decision-making in the first half was not good and he knows it," Krzyzewski said.
Said Hurley: "I wasn't concentrating well [in the first half]. I was trying to make too many moves.
"After that I tried to make one move. When something like that [Richie's steal and talking] happens, you pick up your concentration a little bit."
Several of Duke's players were grinning in the locker room as they listened to Hurley describe the Richie incident. Richie had the quickness to harass Hurley defensively and was doing an exceptional job . . . until he opened his mouth.
"Players are competitive and they're going to say some things," said Hill. "That's just part of the game.
"I'm sure Bob gets people fired up to play him."
Sometimes a little too fired up.