CLEMSON, S.C.— Clemson may have lost in the College Football Playoff national championship Monday night, but the school’s men's basketball team gave its fans a nice consolation prize less than 24 hours later.
Exactly one year after the Blue Devils lost to an unranked Syracuse at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the unranked Tigers defeated No. 3 Duke 79-72 Tuesday night in Littlejohn Coliseum, gifting Duke its first ACC loss of the season.
"I think it just comes down to us," sophomore point guard Tre Jones said. "There's nothing they did. They didn't do anything special. They weren't different from any other team. They weren't better than any of these teams we've beat. It was on us. We didn't come to play."
Down 62-59 with six minutes left, Clemson proceeded to go on a 20-10 run to finish the game. Guard Curran Scott started the run with two made free throws, but it was junior forward Aamir Simms who would give the Tigers the lead for good with a layup, putting the home team up 63-62 with five minutes remaining in the contest.
Simms finished the game with 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the floor, adding nine rebounds and five assists. Graduate senior Tevin Mack—who finished with 22 points of his own on 10-of-14 shooting—followed up Simms’ lay-in with a jumper, extending Clemson’s edge to 65-62.
Duke remained close as time wore down, but Simms and Mack would combine to score all of the Tigers' next eight points as well to put the game to bed.
With just under 11 minutes remaining in the contest, the Blue Devils looked like they were starting to take control. Jones began the run by finding his way to the rim and laying it in to cut Duke’s deficit to 52-50. Vernon Carey Jr. would poke the ball away for a steal on the other end, with the ball naturally finding Jones for a fast break opportunity.
But the sophomore captain decided against taking it all the way to the rim, instead pulling up from three to try to put the Blue Devils ahead. The shot hit nothing but net, and Duke had its first lead of the second half.
Jones finished with 17 points, five rebounds and four assists in 36 minutes.
"He's done that—not to bring us back as much, as just to lead us," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Jones. "And he's one of the best players in the country. But, not having—one reason we've been good is we had depth, and we got two kids out now on the perimeter. And I saw it a little bit in the last game. And tonight, you definitely saw that we're not as good without that depth, but that's basketball."
On the Blue Devils’ next offensive possession, it was Carey’s turn to shine. The freshman big man finished through the foul to stretch Duke’s lead to 55-52 but missed the ensuing free throw, leaving the door open for the Tigers. Clemson (9-7, 3-3 in the ACC) would fight its way back, tying the game at 59 following a Simms three.
Duke (15-2, 5-1) finished 10-of-20 from the line in the game, continuing a rough month from the charity stripe for the Blue Devils.
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Turnovers were the story for Duke’s offense to start off the contest, with the Blue Devils coughing up the ball nine times in the first half, including five times over the first six minutes. Nevertheless, an 8-of-10 start from the field had Duke up 17-16 with 12 minutes remaining in the half.
But then, the Blue Devils went ice cold. Duke hit just four of its next 16 shot attempts, its deficit extending to 40-33 by the end of the first half. The final miss—a wide-open, breakaway Jordan Goldwire layup attempt—summed up the first 20 minutes nicely for the visiting squad.
"When you're in conference, all these games, people are hungry," Krzyzewski said. "And if you win a lot, sometimes you're not as much as the other team. And I thought that's how the game started."
The highlight of the first half came with about eight minutes remaining, when Clemson guard John Newman III completed perhaps the ACC’s most vicious poster dunk of the year thus far. The sophomore jumped over and slammed it right on Blue Devil forward Javin DeLaurier to break a 22-22 tie, hitting the free throw to convert the and-one and putting Clemson up three.
Newman finished the game with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the floor.
Carey led Duke with 20 points and seven rebounds. Sophomore forward Joey Baker missed the game with a sprained right ankle, but is hopeful to return in the Blue Devils' next contest.
"I hope [it’s not a long-term injury]," Krzyzewski said regarding Baker's injury. "We'll see, I hope he's ready for Saturday. He would have been—all these little things, his was a kind of freaky little accident."
Duke will have a chance to rebound Saturday night, as No. 11 Louisville will come to Cameron Indoor Stadium for a top-15 clash.