In front of a sold-out raucous crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum, Duke failed to hold off a late second-half Clemson runs to lose their second ACC road game 72-59. The crowd stormed the court following the Duke loss.
"We're not very good compared to who we've been. Who we've been has been very good," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We can't live in the past; we have to live in the present and figure out how this team can win."
With a rejuvenated Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood continuing his hot shooting, the Blue Devils (12-4, 1-2 in the ACC) looked poised for the first 30 minutes to gain the victory, but poor late-game shooting and a subpar defensive effort led to Duke's demise.
"They just outplayed us today," Hood said. "Rebounds, loose balls, everything..... We scored 22 points in the second half. They out-toughed us when we went into the basket. They're a good athletic team. They played to the end."
Clemson (11-4, 2-1) pulled to within one around the 14-minute mark of the first half, but Duke responded with a corner jumper by Parker to stave off the Tiger rally. The Tigers soon regained the lead they had lost early in the first half at the nine-minute mark, going up 54-52 on a Landry Nnoko layup. The Blue Devils pulled in within two after Clemson jumped out to a 59-54 lead on a Quinn Cook 3-pointer, but failed to regain the lead.
Duke faced a seven-point deficit with 3:25 remaining in the game, yet failed to hit open shots down the stretch. The Blue Devils had 13 team fouls in the second half and gave up 14 offensive rebounds on the afternoon. Without a field goal in the final 6:28 from Duke, Clemson cruised to a double-digit victory.
"That's how games change," Krzyzewski said. "They killed us on the boards 48-30. We're not a good team right now. We're a small team and we need to make up for it enough in different ways. We're not some powerhouse."
On multiple occasions earlier in both halves, the Blue Devils found themselves about to give up the lead but clutch shooting and defensive stops held off the Tigers propelled by their home crowd. This time Duke failed to hit key shots down the stretch or cause turnovers on the defensive end that led to easy buckets. The exuberant environment for Clemson compounded the Blue Devils struggles in the second half.
The beginning of the contest was a different story. Duke found itself down by five early on until Parker exploded for ten points draining back-to-back triples to put Duke up 8-7. The Blue Devils never looked back relying on Hood, Parker, and diffused production from the bench and other starters to hold a lead for the remainder of the half and most of the subsequent half.
Parker's struggles began in the second half as the freshman was matched up in the post against Nnoko among others unable to protect the rim effectively. The poor performance on defense translated into merely five points in the closing frame as the Blue Devils combined to shoot 25 percent from the floor in the second half.
The youth of this team in crunch situations on the road when Duke has the lead has shown. It is a problem, which no one on the court or the bench has answers to right now.
"On the road, when you have a lead, you have to extend that lead," Hood said. "We can't let them come down and get tip dunks and layups and [commit] ticky-tack fouls, put them in the one-and-one, get their crowd into it. That's part of maturing."
The Blue Devils ended the first half shooting around 45 percent from the floor and from beyond the arc. The 3-point shooting seemed to be the difference early on as Duke continued its rebounding woes giving up seven first-half offensive rebounds to Clemson. The Blue Devils caused seven first-half turnovers for the Tigers ending the half up 37-31.
K.J. McDaniels led the Tigers in scoring in the first frame with 17 of the Tigers' 31 points. McDaniels led Clemson in scoring with 24 points and combined with crucial 3-pointers from Blossomgame—who had 14 points and 14 boards—helped the Tigers overcome the Blue Devils.
The undersized Blue Devils whose lack of a rim protector continues to plague them on the road or at neutral sites were outrebounded by 18 including giving up 14 offensive rebounds that translated into 17 second-chance points for Clemson.
"We're not physically strong so we have to do things collectively, especially on rebounding," Krzyzewski said. "Everyone has got to be rebounding. You hope that you can match the other team, not out-rebound them, but match them."
Duke's Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker both led the team in scoring with 20 and 15 points respectively, but a lack of a third scorer contributed to the loss for the Blue Devils. Quinn Cook followed the duo with a meager eight points on 3-of-14 shooting.
This Duke team continues to struggle without go to options on the floor and a reliable defensive effort. As ACC play continues Monday night against Virginia, the Blue Devils are forced to recover quickly so that their hope of contending for a National Championship remains a possibility.
"We just have to understand that we don't get these games back," senior guard Tyler Thornton said. "Every game in the ACC means something. Coach has said it all year. You're not guaranteed of any postseason position in the NCAA tournament and that's the ultimate goal. We have to handle these games one game at a time."