NEW YORK—After playing 12 straight games decided by 10 points or fewer, the Blue Devils entered the postseason hoping to pick up a stress-free victory.

Instead, Duke is in another dogfight. 

Despite getting out to a 9-3 lead and holding the Tigers to 36.4 percent shooting, the Blue Devils are tied at 33 in the second round of the ACC tournament at the Barclays Center thanks to 16 Clemson free throws. Junior Grayson Allen picked up three first-half fouls, including a technical for slamming the ball down with 4:52 left following a second straight over-the-back foul that gave the Tigers four free throws and their first lead of the day at 23-22.

The incident was part of a sloppy half that saw leading scorer Luke Kennard shoot just 1-of-9 and Duke squander early chances to build an early lead against a less talented opponent once again. 

Luckily for the Blue Devils, rookies Jayson Tatum and Frank Jackson got going late in the period by attacking the basket, making a pair of late layups to bring their team even and give head coach Mike Krzyzewski's team some much-needed momentum. Tatum and Jackson have nine points apiece to lead the way for Duke. 

Although the Blue Devils looked focused defensively to start the game, their inability to defend without fouling let Clemson slow the game down once it stopped turning the ball over. The Tigers coughed it up eight times, but got 10 points and six boards from star forward Jaron Blossomgame to give themselves a chance to earn a win that could keep slim NCAA tournament hopes alive. 

Here are some observations from the first half:

  • Jackson started once again and gave Duke some early energy, picking off a lazy outlet pass and throwing down a dunk to open the scoring. He also immediately canned a triple after Allen's technical foul that momentarily gave the Blue Devils the lead back. 
  • Allen was greeted as usual with a chorus of boos from non-Blue Devil fans in the building. The hobbled guard made a nice pass to Harry Giles on a pick and roll on one of his first possessions, but lost his composure yet again after missing an easy floater. He returned to the game for the team's final possession of the half with 2.7 seconds left.
  • Although Blossomgame earned a few buckets inside, he struggled with Duke's double teams, committing five first-half turnovers trying to feed teammates.
  • The Blue Devils are in foul trouble, with Amile Jefferson, Harry Giles and Matt Jones all with two apiece. As a result, sophomore Antonio Vrankovic saw a few first-half minutes, his first action since Jan. 30.