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Beyond the arc: Duke men's basketball suffers its second unranked loss of the season

The victory marked Clemson's first win against a top-3 opponent since 2001
The victory marked Clemson's first win against a top-3 opponent since 2001

Duke played some of its worst basketball of the season Tuesday night, crumbling at the feet of Clemson and losing 79-72. The Blue Zone gives you three key takeaways, stats and looks forward for the Blue Devils:

Three key takeaways:

1. Duke needs a full roster

All year, Duke’s greatest asset hasn’t been a few superstars, but rather a deep roster with many scoring options. That roster took a hit when it lost Wendell Moore Jr. to a hand injury and then another when it ruled out Joey Baker due to a sprained right ankle. What once was a strong and diverse 10-man rotation is quickly getting cut down. Without role players to lift up the stars, Duke looks like an entirely different team. It’s now apparent that the Blue Devils cannot beat strong opponents without either a full healthy roster or exceptional performances from the team's top players. Last night, Duke had neither.

2. Clemson puts the clamps on

Many of Duke’s shortcomings came from sloppy play and turnovers, but the force that caused those giveaways was Clemson’s defense. The Tigers defended with the intensity that Blue Devil fans are used to seeing from their own team. As Duke looked disjointed and confused, Clemson stayed composed and took advantage. Throughout the night, the Tigers played like the better and more confident team, notching nine steals, four blocks and forcing 15 turnovers, nine of which came in the first half, which set the tone for the night. 

3. This is Simms’ year

Aamir Simms has been a notable piece of Clemson’s rotation for his whole career, playing in almost every game since he arrived on campus, including three NCAA tournament games in 2018. However, the junior forward has made a massive leap this season, improving from 8.1 to 14.6 points per game. Having now led the unranked Tigers to back-to-back wins over the ACC’s most acclaimed programs, Simms will move forward as the team’s undeniable star and leader. At the rate Clemson is going, it would not be surprising to see the Tigers appear in next week’s AP poll. And if Simms keeps up his new standard, he could potentially make a return to March Madness.

Three key stats:

Goldwire goes 0-for-3 on layups

Between his botched halftime buzzer-beater layup and two additional attempts, Jordan Goldwire’s inability to finish under the basket killed any momentum Duke had throughout the game. With each one of his three missed layups, you could feel the Blue Devils deflate. While he wasn’t the only Duke player to make errors tonight, Goldwire will surely be most remembered for them.

Three Blue Devils with four fouls

As the final minutes of this ball game approached, it was clear that Duke had to step up the aggression. Unfortunately, that becomes a challenge when three of its players—Vernon Carey Jr., Cassius Stanley and Jack White—are in immediate danger of fouling out. This risk caused tentativeness that killed the Blue Devils down the stretch at a time when the game was still winnable.

Clemson is now 3-0 against teams from North Carolina

The Tigers have defended their side of the Carolinas with a fire that their program only sees once in a generation, crossing out N.C. State, North Carolina and Duke in three consecutive games. The only ACC team from North Carolina yet to succumb to Clemson’s rampage is Wake Forest, which will have to pay the Tigers a visit next week. With the greatest challenge out of the way and the momentum of defeating a top-5 Duke team for the first time since 2009, Clemson should have no problem sweeping the state. This season of college basketball proves once again to be an unpredictable whirlwind, and Clemson is thriving in the chaos.

Looking forward:

If Duke was able to get over the Stephen F. Austin loss, then it will surely be able to get over this. As disappointing as it is to lose the first ACC game of the season, this by no means is the end of the world for the Blue Devils. In the long run, this loss will result in a slight drop in the AP poll and will make it a little harder to win the conference, a feat Duke hasn’t pulled off since 2009-10. Hopefully, this ugly defeat will serve as motivation for the Blue Devils to come out hot against one of the best teams in the conference—No. 11 Louisville—on Saturday.

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