Quinn Cook bounced back from a cold shooting performance against Wake Forest to lead the Blue Devils with a career-high 27 points as Duke brushed Clemson aside 68-40 Tuesday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
After going 0-for-11 from the floor in Duke’s last time out, Cook was 12-for-16, including 3-for-5 from behind the arc, to help No. 1 Duke (15-0, 2-0 in the ACC) open the season 15-0 for the second time in three years.
Despite notching 14 assists against Wake Forest, Cook struggled to find his shooting touch and was held scoreless for the first time this season. He quickly erased the memory of that game, however, as he repeatedly knocked down big shots for the Blue Devils.
“It was just having my confidence. I didn’t let Saturday’s performance affect me,” Cook said. “I just took my shots, my teammates found me, and it was a good feeling to knock a couple down.”
Both the Tigers (8-6, 0-2) and the Blue Devils were ice-cold to begin the game, as neither side made a field goal in the first five minutes. Cook finally got things going offensively for the Blue Devils with a beautiful backdoor cut, which led to an easy layup for the game’s first field goal, with 14:32 left in the half.
The sophomore point guard then hit Mason Plumlee for a monstrous alley-oop that finally got the Duke offense rolling. With Tiger senior Devin Booker battling Plumlee in the paint and Clemson defenders collapsing on him every time he received the ball, Plumlee responded by quickly finding the open man on the perimeter. He hit senior forward Ryan Kelly and Cook for treys on successive possessions as Duke raced out to a 13-6 lead.
Clemson’s shooting woes continued throughout the first half, however, as stifling defensive pressure from the Blue Devils held the Tigers to just 12 percent shooting from the field in the first half. At one point, the Tigers went nearly eight minutes without a basket, with Duke opening up a 12-point advantage. Clemson only managed to score 10 points in the first half, and Duke went into the break up 25-10.
“It was just a hard game to score,” Krzyzewski said. “Thank goodness our defense was a little bit better than their’s tonight.”
The stellar defensive performance by Duke was overshadowed however, by an injury to Kelly. The senior forward hurt his foot at some point during the half. Although it did not appear to limit him offensively—he had 12 points and six rebounds in the first period—he did not play the entire second half with what the team referred to as a right leg injury.
After the game, Krzyzewski confirmed that Kelly injured the same foot that bothered him earlier in the season.
“Ryan hurt his foot, we don’t know the extent, but it is the same foot,” Krzyzewski said. “We’re hopeful it’s not real serious, but for precautionary reasons we felt it wasn’t good to play him in the second half.”
Kelly’s absence was felt when the Tigers implemented a fullcourt press about five minutes into the second half.
“Ryan is usually inbounding the ball against the press, and we didn’t inbound the ball well.” Krzyzewski said.
With Mason placed in the unfamiliar position of inbounding the ball against the fullcourt press, he turned the ball over as Tiger point guard Adonis Filer stole the inbound pass and converted an easy layup to bring the score to 34-22 with 15:32 remaining in the game.
Then, even after Krzyzewski called a timeout to go over the inbound procedure, the Blue Devils still struggled to break the press. The next time, Mason got the ball in to Tyler Thornton, but the junior guard was quickly trapped in the corner and made an errant pass right to Clemson guard Jordan Roper.
With the opportunity to bring the deficit to single digits and give the Tigers some much needed momentum, Clemson’s offensive struggles continued, however, as Roper’s 3-point attempt rimmed out. Thornton quickly atoned for his mistake as he connected from deep to extend the lead to 15 and the Blue Devils never looked back.
Plumlee finished with eight points and added 13 rebounds while he limited Booker’s impact offensively. Booker, the Tigers’ primary offensive weapon, finished with just 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting to go with 15 rebounds.
“Between Mason and Booker, no one won that matchup,” Krzyzewski said. “And that’s a win for us. Booker is their best player and if he doesn’t have a dominant performance, we have a better chance of winning.”
With Booker held in check, the offensive burden fell to the Tigers’ other players to knock down shots, and they could not step up against the Blue Devil defense. Clemson shot made 15-of-53 field goals—good for 28.3 percent—as the Blue Devils held the Tigers to a season-low 40 points.
“We played really good defense tonight,” Krzyzewski said. “To me, that was the story of the game.”