"We see how everyone is bunched up and how easily we could win the ACC," senior forward Raymond Sykes said. "We definitely can. We're right there."
Clemson beat Boston College 87-77 on Tuesday night to move to 6-3 in the league, a game behind North Carolina and Duke in the loss column.
UNC is at Duke on Wednesday night. The Tigers are hoping that with the heated rivals playing each other twice in the final month, there will be an opportunity for at least one loss for each.
Duke certainly is feeling better about itself after getting thumped by Clemson last week, beating Miami in overtime Saturday. A spirited performance by Greg Paulus led him to be named a starter for the second straight game instead of Nolan Smith.
North Carolina is on a roll since needing a 3-pointer by Ty Lawson to beat Florida State on the final possession Jan. 28 and has pounded NC State on the road and Maryland and Virginia at home prior to the Duke game. If the Tar Heels can continue to ride the hot hand of Wayne Ellington (34 points against Maryland) and play off the expected advantage inside with Tyler Hansbrough and Deon Thompson, they have a great shot to win in Cameron. The key for Duke will be whether Gerald Henderson can keep his best friend Ellington in check or whether he'll be on Danny Green to stop his proficiency for key buckets. Kyle Singler obviously will need help inside, and so too might Paulus and Jon Scheyer, in trying to keep Lawson from penetrating.
Clemson isn't openly cheering, but the Tigers need Duke to win. Clemson couldn't beat North Carolina on Jan. 21 and is done with the Tar Heels. UNC's schedule has three more potential potholes, with games at Miami, at Virginia Tech and home against Duke (since nothing is a given in this rivalry).
Duke still goes to Boston College on Sunday, plays host to Wake Forest (which, as evidenced by a win at Clemson and wins over Duke and Carolina at home, can beat anyone in the league, at home or on the road), goes to rival Maryland (yes, even though the Blue Devils won by 41 on Jan. 24, this is still Duke-Maryland), goes to Virginia Tech, plays host to surging Florida State and ends with North Carolina. Take a deep breath. That's quite a schedule to handle.
Wake Forest, which is tied with Clemson with three losses, still plays Florida State (which just won at Clemson) at home, goes to Duke and hosts Clemson in a schedule that's not as intimidating.
As for the Tigers, well, they are done with Duke and Carolina and end the season at Wake Forest. Getting the BC win was huge, since they have only two daunting road games left -- Florida State and Wake Forest -- with trips to bottom dwellers Virginia and Georgia Tech still pending. Home games against Maryland, Virginia Tech and Virginia all are within reach. So winning the next four games (at Virginia, Maryland, at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech) before heading to Florida State on Feb. 28 isn't a stretch.
"We don't have Duke and Carolina again but we have Wake Forest," Sykes said. "We're still motivated to put this through."
Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said as much late Tuesday night. Winning the ACC is still within this team's sights. He said the Tigers are lying in wait a bit as Duke and Carolina play each other twice. (For more of the interview, listen to Friday's ESPNU College Basketball podcast.)
And one thing the Tigers have going for them that no one else does is sophomore shooting guard Terrence Oglesby. Sure, Carolina has Ellington, and Duke has its share of sharpshooters in Scheyer and at times Paulus. Wake has Jeff Teague to start a spurt. But it might be hard to equal Oglesby's self-producing runs.
Oglesby made six 3s, five in the second half, to take over the BC game. He had one stretch in which he converted a four-point play on a 3-pointer and then a possession later hit another 3-pointer to bust a tie game to a five-point lead.
"You can see the opponent's face when he shoots a 3. We love it; that's why he's out there," Sykes said.
Purnell gives Oglesby the green light as long as the ball goes inside and then out at least once or if he's wide open, which he was when BC's Tyrese Rice fell into photographers on the baseline and Oglesby was left for the final dagger 3-pointer to give the Tigers a nine-point lead with 1:28 left.
"He's a weapon and an explosive part of what makes us really good," Purnell said. The Tigers' trapping defense, which they didn't use much in the first half but did in the second much more effectively, with Trevor Booker (21 points and 13 rebounds) inside and K.C. Rivers (17 points) penetrating and shooting 3s next to Oglesby, makes the Tigers even more difficult to match. When the pressure isn't played with passion, it's porous, as was the case in the first half. The energy changed in the second because of Oglesby.
"I feel I can spark runs with two possessions in a row by getting six points off the bat," the unassuming Oglesby said. "I know that it can be a quick turnaround. I can get three 3s in a row, and that's nine points, and the other team doesn't know what hit them. Suddenly they're down six or nine points. The whole energy has changed."
Oglesby's attention to detail is fanatical. His father, Tony, who was at the game Tuesday, said the two of them will get "200,000 3-pointers up in the offseason." Purnell added that Oglesby is in the gym as much as possible, late night, early morning, around his class schedule, to continue to work on his craft.
This past summer, Oglesby spent time on his footwork with former college coach Kevin Cantwell and then went to Houston to work with former NBA coach John Lucas. Oglesby said that when he arrived, Lucas told him that if he shot a 3-pointer, he was going home.
"I was the only guy who looks like me down there," said the generously listed 6-foot-2 Oglesby, who is from Cleveland, Tenn., but was born in Norway to his Norwegian mother. Tony played professionally in Norway.
"[Lucas] would get so mad at me if I tried to [shoot a 3]," Oglesby said. "It was awesome, though. I loved it."
Oglesby then took the footwork from Cantwell and the driving lessons from Lucas, and went to play with the Norwegian FIBA 20-and-under team. He led the Division B scoring with 24.4 points a game.
Oglesby, who has dual citizenship, is creating options overseas if he can't make the NBA. He made 85 3s as a freshman, shooting 40.3 percent. After Tuesday's game, he's shooting 40.6 percent, making 67 attempts with seven regular-season games remaining.
Making five 3s against Duke was another reason he can be a difference-maker.
All he needs is a crack of space.
"I feel like if I can get my arms up, I can put it in the hole," Oglesby said. "I've had all kinds of people guarding me, from 5-10 to 6-9. If I can get my arms up, then I can elevate high on my jumper."
Oglesby admitted he was a bit passive in the first half Tuesday night. The Tigers trailed by four. He said he sensed his team needed a boost.
"We were flat, so I thought I needed to knock down some shots to get everybody to get going," Oglesby said.
He did. The Tigers found him. They have the utmost confidence in him. They know, if he makes the 3s, the game can swing to their favor.
So too could the ACC if Clemson can continue its roll, not collapse like it did against Florida State, and simply wait to see whether Duke and Carolina split and Wake Forest takes another hit. Then, if they beat Wake Forest on the final day of the regular season, the Tigers could be left standing on top.