CLEMSON, S.C. -- Stellar games by Nolan Smith and Lance Thomas allowed No. 6 Duke to defeat Clemson 60-47 Saturday night in Littlejohn Coliseum, making last season’s 74-47 crushing defeat nothing but a distant memory. With their first road win of the season, the Blue Devils answered the question if they can win away from Cameron Indoor Stadium with a thundering ‘yes’.
Smith led the Blue Devils with 22 points Saturday night, the ninth time he’s led the team in scoring. His aggressive offensive efforts combined with Thomas’s effective control of Tiger powerhouse Trevor Booker allowed Duke to leave Clemson with its first road win of the season. Thomas chipped in 13 points of his own and seven rebounds.
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 Tiger's lowest home scoring total in seven years. Early on in the half court, the Blue Devils successfully got into passing lanes and limited Booker’s open looks into the post. 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 charged 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 demur scene of disappointed fans. ESPN College GameDay enticed 4,000 students to line-up 10 hours before tip-off for tickets and the OPP, or Oliver Purnell’s Posse as they refer to themselves, was ready for the matchup. Smith didn’t underestimate the importance of maintaining power over 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 shorten Duke’s second half lead to 29-28, a monstrous three-point jumper by Kyle Singler signaled the beginning of the end for Clemson. Smith echoed Singler’s efforts with another three followed by Singler’s quick two-point jumper. With 12 points, Singler reached double figures in scoring for the 16th time this season and 75th time in his career.
Duke’s dominant second half also came in large part because of Jon Scheyer’s complete control of the pace of the game. Clemson attempted to increase the tempo with a vigorous full court press, but Scheyer maturely brought the ball down the court while simultaneous 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.
“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, ultimately it was the Tiger’s inability to increase the tempo of the game and gain control of any momentum that lead to their defeat.
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Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell tipped his hat to Duke’s impressive defense with his remarks about the home loss.
“During the second half, Duke handled our pressure as well as anyone in a half,” Purnell said. “We played defense well enough to win, 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 of play and proved it can see success even under the most difficult of circumstances. The game marks a significant victory for the Blue Devils as they look forward to a home game against Florida State this Wednesday followed by an away matchup with Georgetown this Saturday.
“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.”