Battling tired legs on the shortest turnaround of its ACC season, Duke used tough defense to build an early lead before Clemson surged to give the Blue Devils a scare. It was not enough, though, as Duke eked out a 64-62 victory.
Revisiting the three keys to the game:
- Shut down Blossomgame: One of the leading scorers in the ACC and a preseason first-team all-conference selection, Jaron Blossomgame has been the Tigers' lone consistent offensive force this season. But thanks to yet another solid defensive performance from Matt Jones, the Blue Devils were able to keep the 6-foot-7 forward in check. Blossomgame finished the afternoon with just seven points on 3-of-12 shooting with no 3-pointers. The redshirt senior did collect a team-high nine rebounds for the visitors—without Blossomgame's offense, however, the Tigers shot just 37.9 percent from the field on the afternoon,
- Convert from deep: At the start, it was raining triples for the Duke offense. After Luke Kennard missed the Blue Devils' first 3-point attempt, freshman Frank Jackson drilled a pair in less than 90 seconds and Grayson Allen followed with a long bomb of his own on the next possession. 21 of Duke's 29 first-half points came on 3-pointers, but after finishing 7-of-14 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes, the Blue Devils hit on only 4-of-12 long-distance attempts after intermission.
- Keep the freshmen going: After Jayson Tatum starred for Duke in its victory Thursday night, the Blue Devil first-years struggled to find their groove Saturday. After Tatum and Jackson combined for Duke's first eight points, the duo along with freshmen big men Harry Giles and Marques Bolden tallied just 11 total points the rest of the way. The freshman corps did shoot 7-of-15 from the field, though, including a trio of triples, and registered three blocks.
Three key stats:
- Clemson outscores the Blue Devils 34-18 in points in the paint: With graduate student forward Amile Jefferson in foul trouble throughout much of the game, Duke struggled down low against a physical Clemson front line. The Tigers attacked the rim with ease in the second half, but Duke mostly relied on outside shooting to build and maintain its lead. The Blue Devils especially had no answer for forward Elijah Thomas, who scored 15 points and was at times unstoppable in the second half.
- Kennard is the only Duke player to score in double figures: Although Kennard contributed 25 points, the Blue Devils did not get much offense out of their other starters. After scoring more than 20 points in his last three games heading into Saturday, Grayson Allen finished with just eight points on 2-of-10 shooting. The junior knocked down two 3-pointers, but did not have many opportunities to make plays around the rim. Freshman forward Jayson Tatum also struggled, hitting just 37.5 percent of his shots for nine points.
- Clemson scores 44 points after halftime: After shooting just 17.9 percent and scoring 18 points in the first half, the Tigers exploded in the second half. Led by Thomas and guard Shelton Mitchell, Clemson trimmed a double-digit deficit and took a lead at one point, scoring 27 points in the first 10 minutes of the second half. After hounding the Tiger offense throughout the first half, Duke was inactive and looked tired on defense for much of the second.
Three key plays:
- 10:10 remaining, second half: Despite a poor first-half shooting effort, Clemson would not go away. After a Luke Kennard jumper put Duke up eight with a little more than 12 minutes to go, the Tigers began a 9-0 run that spanned less than two minutes. Following a Gabe DeVoe layup to pull within one of the Blue Devils, Marcquise Reed plucked the ball from Allen on a dribble-handoff, taking it the length of the floor before slamming it home to give Clemson its first lead since early in the first half.
- 9:44 remaining, second half: With the crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium nearly in stunned silence from the Tiger spurt, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski ripped his suit jacket off, looking to ignite both the Blue Devil fans and his team. Kennard responded, calmly drilling a crucial 3-pointer—part of a stretch in which the sophomore guard scored 15 consecutive Duke points. The Blue Devils would never trail again in the contest thanks to Kennard's late-game offensive push.
- 2:05 remaining, second half: Two days after one of his best performances this season, Tatum was quiet for much of the afternoon—putting up just six points during the game's first 37-plus minutes. With the Tigers closing in, Kennard fed the ball down low to Amile Jefferson, and as the Clemson defense collapsed, the graduate student forward kicked it out to Tatum on the right wing. The St. Louis native rose and drilled Duke's 11th and final triple of the afternoon, giving his team a 7-point cushion with a little more than two minutes to play.
And the Duke game ball goes to.... Luke Kennard
As he has done throughout the season, Kennard carried the Blue Devils when they needed him most. With Grayson Allen and Jayson Tatum struggling to score in the second half, Kennard became Duke’s only offense. After hitting just two of his seven shots in the first half, the Franklin, Ohio, native scored 20 of his 25 points in the second period. He at one point singlehandedly helped Duke retain its second-half lead, scoring 15 straight points, including two key three-pointers. After scoring just 10 points against Pittsburgh Feb. 4, the sophomore has bounced back with 45 points in his last two games.
And the Clemson game ball goes to.... Shelton Mitchell
With former first-team All-ACC selection Blossomgame struggling, Mitchell led Clemson with a career-high 23 points, 21 of which came in the second half. The guard—who shot 53.3 percent from the field—helped the Tigers narrow the deficit in the beginning of the second half and gave Clemson an opportunity to pull off a comeback win with six points in the final 2:35.
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."