Since moving to the perimeter, Kyle Singler has not looked himself this season.
In the Blue Devils' major games so far, his numbers don't lie. 5-for-16, 13 points against Arizona State. 2-for-12, six points against Connecticut. 3-for-8, nine points against Gonzaga. The junior, widely considered Duke's best player, hasn't really shown the dominant play expected of him.
That changed Sunday night. While Singler was not the leading scorer in the game (that honor would go to Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer), he was its best player. Singler tallied 16 points and eight rebounds, but perhaps more importantly played stellar interior defense, helping to limit Trevor Booker, David Potter and Jerai Grant to just 25 total points.
"I thought Kyle's look tonight was the best one he's had all year," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I think he's played really well, but tonight he really looked strong."
Singler, like the Duke team as a whole, started slow in the game but began to make his presence felt as the first half drew to a close.
At the 5:32 mark, Jerai Grant backed in on the much smaller Singler, who planted his feet and took the charge. Then, after Singler missed a jumper, Trevor Booker took the ball down the court and went up for a layup.
Singler leaped behind him and blocked the shot, then turned to Booker and started jawing at him. Booker incredulously smiled at Singler, who, it became clear, was not joking around.
"I don't really know what I said," Singler told reporters after the game. "It was all just in the heat of the moment."
Booker, to his credit, refused to be the weaker man after the exchange. He bragged after the game that he, "still got him on SportsCenter [with a dunk last year], so it's all cool."
Singler would follow the block with a 3-pointer from the left wing that sent Cameron into a tizzy. Smith clanged a 3 of his own on the next trip, but Singler, who had three offensive boards on the night, was there to grab the miss and put it up for the easy lay-in. He was a large reason why the Blue Devils went into the locker room with an 18-point lead.
Clemson came out in the second half hot. The Tigers managed to score 11 straight, cutting the Duke lead to seven and quieting what had been a very lively Cameron crowd.
But the team, led by Singler, stayed focused and stopped the run before it cut the game too close. Thomas said that the run a couple of years ago would have made sure the end of the game "would have been much closer." It's a testament to the maturity of the Blue Devils that Clemson never cut the lead more than that.
"It's a good sign that when they made that run we kinda bounced back," said Singler.
Fittingly, it was Singler that hit the last shot of the game, a jumper in the paint which put the Blue Devils up 19 and sealed the victory which erased the demons of last year's game-- and a victory made possible by inspired play from Singler.