In 4.4 seconds, the Blue Devils proved more about their resiliency and ability to win games than they had in three straight conference victories.
Going into Thursday night's match-up against Clemson, some doubt still surrounded this young Duke team and its ability to beat formidable conference opponents.
When Dave McClure released the ball with .1 seconds left on the clock-and the shot went in-that doubt got drowned out in the pile of Blue Devils smothering McClure on the floor, the roars from the Crazies in the stands and the 68-66 final score.
Drowned along with it was the frustration generated by an errant Josh McRoberts inbound pass in the backcourt, which the sophomore called the worst play he has ever made. That critical mistake led to Vernon Hamilton tying the game with a dead-on three.
McClure's big basket also buried the fact that Jon Scheyer-the assist-man on the buzzer beater-had been the last Duke player to score a field goal before that shot, when he hit a three with 6:21 left in the game, extending the Blue Devil lead to 58-52.
"A few weeks ago, it would have been easy for us to fold and go away and have them run away with the game," McClure said. "But, we've grown and we really stayed poised down the end. We were able to make stops when we needed them, come up with the rebounds when we needed them, and we hit some clutch free-throws."
In the second half, deflated by the more-than-six minute scoring drought to close out the game, Duke shot 33.3 percent from the field. In this same span, however, the Blue Devils went a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line-including four shots sunk by freshmen Scheyer and Gerald Henderson in the final 49 seconds.
"In this league, at this level, you have to learn to play 'tired' well," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "You have to find something, and you can't really teach that in practice."
Krzyzewski found that something in the clutch play of Scheyer, who, in addition to his 12 points and perfect 6-for-6 shooting from the charity stripe, had the poise of a veteran in executing the winning play.
The freshman caught the ball much deeper in the backcourt than Krzyzewski had hoped, the coach said, but what he did with the ball amazed his teammates, particularly the recipient of his last-second dish, McClure.
"Just to have the courage, because he's a freshman, [Clemson players] are flying at him and seconds are ticking off the clock, and he has the poise to look up and find me-it was really an unbelievable pass," McClure said.
Krzyzewski said that if his team would have played this game three weeks ago, the Blue Devils would have lost by 12. But as Duke is continuing to grow into its own identity, the team is also learning how to win.
The Blue Devils played more aggressively than they had in previous outings, attacking the basket and out-rebounding the Tigers, 40-24.
McRoberts paced the more assertive Blue Devils on offense, recording only his second double-double of conference play by scoring 17 points and pulling down 12 boards-including six on the offensive glass-in 36 minutes.
And although McClure most likely will be remembered for taking the game-ending shot, his presence on defense-particularly his ability to guard on the interior but contain perimeter players when switching off screens-has made him one of Duke's most reliable players.
"He does a lot of things that many people don't notice-loose balls, rebounds, defense-for him to get this, it's what he deserves," sophomore Greg Paulus said. "He's been playing so well for us the last couple of weeks. It's a credit to how good of a player he is."
On Tuesday night, Krzyzewski called a special meeting for the Cameron Crazies, keeping them past midnight to convince them that his team is hungry and his players need them to come out in full force in order to defeat the Tigers.
The capacity crowd in Cameron Indoor Stadium kept its end of the bargain Thursday. And with the heart of the ACC schedule still in front of them, the Blue Devils will have to do the same and continue to find ways to win close games.
As disappointed Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell said after the loss: "There are no moral victories here."
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