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Blue Devils claw out road win

Senior Lance Thomas’s hustle and aggression helped limit Clemson big man Trevor Booker’s production in Duke’s milestone road victory Saturday.
Senior Lance Thomas’s hustle and aggression helped limit Clemson big man Trevor Booker’s production in Duke’s milestone road victory Saturday.

For the 11th time this season, Duke held its opponent to under 30 first-half points as both sides’ solid defense made points hard to come by before intermission. The Blue Devils shot a mere 2-of-6 from 3-point range and missed three of four foul shots.

Clemson’s 47 points marked the Tigers’ lowest home scoring total in seven years. Early on in the half-court offense, the Blue Devils successfully got into passing lanes and limited Booker’s open looks down low. Although Booker ended the game with a team-high 22 points, head coach Mike Krzyzewki was pleased with Thomas and the team’s efforts against one of the top players in the country.

“I am proud of our men,” Krzyzewski said. “I thought Lance Thomas was very strong tonight…. You are not going to stop Booker…. He has such a strong influence on the game and may be one of their best passers, but tonight he was not able to influence the game in that area.”

Entering the second half tied at 23, Smith jumpstarted the Blue Devils with a 14-2 second-half run and turned Clemson’s student cheering section from a screaming sea of jumping orange into a demure scene of disappointed fans. ESPN College GameDay enticed 4,000 students to line up 10 hours before tip-off for tickets and Oliver Purnell’s Posse was ready for the matchup. Smith didn’t underestimate the importance of maintaining command of the game to ensure the OPP didn’t have too much to cheer about and get out of hand.

“Outside of Cameron, I think this is the toughest place in the ACC to play,” Smith said. “It was very important that we played with poise out there. That’s a big thing for us on the road…. We have to take care of the ball or that gets their crowd into it. It’s a very loud arena, but we were able to stay in control.”

Although the Tigers were able to cut Duke’s second-half lead to 29-28, a timely 3-point jumper by Kyle Singler signaled the beginning of the end for Clemson. Smith followed Singler’s efforts with another three, and Singler extended the run with a quick jumper. Singler finished the night with 12 points.

Duke’s dominant second half also came in part because of Jon Scheyer’s control of the pace of the game. Clemson attempted to increase the tempo with a vigorous full court press, but Scheyer calmly brought the ball down the court while simultaneously bringing down the clock and still finding ways to execute the offense. Scheyer had 11 points for the Blue Devils and committed just three turnovers.

Scheyer also keyed Duke’s stifling second-half defensive effort. The Blue Devils held Clemson to just 24 points in the second period while scoring 37 themselves.

“We talked about really coming out strong defensively in the second half,” Scheyer said. “We played a really good first half, but we couldn’t let up. Finally we got some offense from our defense.”

Booker refused to give way to Duke’s defensive efforts and posted eight assertive points in the last four minutes of the game. However, it was the Tiger’s inability to increase the tempo of the game and gain control of any momentum that lead to their defeat.

Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell tipped his hat to Duke’s impressive defensive effort.

“During the second half, Duke handled our pressure as well as anyone in a half,” Purnell said. “We played defense well enough to win, [but] we just couldn’t score.”

After a strenuous week of ACC play with a disappointing defeat on the road to N.C State last Wednesday, Duke showed true fortitude and proved it can succeed even under the most difficult of circumstances. The game marks a significant victory for the Blue Devils as they look forward to two more tough matchups this week.

“There is no question that teams gain confidence after a win,” Krzyzewski said. “This is a really big win for us. The guys should feel good about this.”

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