CLEMSON, S.C.—Tigers carefully track their prey and await for the perfect opportunity to pounce when hunting in the wild.
The Clemson Tigers were no different in their rout of the Blue Devils, as it appeared they had just been waiting for Duke to come to town for them to unleash their full potential.
The Blue Devils have had a rollercoaster of a season thus far, yet as of late, it appeared that they had turned a corner. However, Clemson had something to say about letting Duke continue its momentum, eking out a 62-58 win in Littlejohn Coliseum Sunday afternoon.
“It was just a great basketball game and truly a valiant effort by our team, particularly in the third and fourth quarters," head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "Lots of hustle and heart out there. Lots of making plays, great energy. Obviously we kind of ran out of time on the clock to finish what we wanted to get done. We’ve got to handle some rough starts a little bit better... The reality is the energy we had throughout that latter portion of the second half was great and that is what we need to take from that game”
For three quarters, the story was all Clemson (7-11, 3-4 in the ACC). Heading into the fourth quarter, Duke made the switch from zone to man defense and applied full court pressure on the Tigers for the final ten minutes.
After the change, the Tigers were knocked out of rhythm and the momentum slowly shifted toward the Blue Devils (9-9, 3-4). Thanks to forward Leaonna Odom coming alive, Duke found itself down only four points with 71 seconds remaining despite its sloppy play.
Sophomore Miela Goodchild was fouled and went to the line with just over a minute left, sinking one to turn the contest into a one possession game. Then, due to a Jade Williams foul, Clemson's Hannah Hank drained two free throws, stretching the Clemson lead to five. Duke wouldn't go away, however, as Haley Gorecki found a wide open Williams under the basket on the next possession to bring it back to a three-point game.
After exchanging free throws, the Blue Devils' star, Gorecki, found herself with the ball and a chance to tie. The Illinois native drove hard to the hoop and tried to find an open Mikayla Boykin in the corner, but she was called for a travel, spoiling Duke's hopes for a comeback.
Although the Blue Devils put together a formidable comeback effort, their dysfunctional first half proved to be too costly to overcome. Duke shot a lowly 35 percent from the field and just 11.8 percent in the second quarter, the third lowest second-quarter mark in program history. The Blue Devils were consistently unable to create quality shots on offense, with several of their possessions ending in shot clock violations and airballs. With 26 turnovers, Duke looked stunned by Clemson’s aggressive, physical style of play and had to use some much-needed halftime adjustments to find ways to score.
“The team just did a great job finding each other," McCallie said on how the team flipped the script on offense. "There were more take down lanes and there were some very beautiful passes by [Gorecki] creating for her teammates and of course, [Odom’s] takes. I just think we were definitely in attack mode... We weren’t settling and we were doing a better job of attacking.”
The Blue Devils failed to get on the board until there were less than six minutes left in the first quarter, and the Tigers took advantage. They struck first and fast, jumping out to a 12-0 lead and forcing McCallie to call a timeout.
Clemson has struggled offensively all year long, but early on, Kendall Spray showed she had intentions of changing that narrative. She went 2-for-3 from beyond the arc in the first quarter and finished the day with 16 points. The Tigers were not exceptionally good from 3-point and mid range, yet they shot the ball well enough to stretch the Duke defense and create quality looks.
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Despite Clemson being last in the ACC in assists, head coach Amanda Butler’s squad had no problem creating enough offense to take a commanding 14-point lead into the half. What the Tigers lacked in offensive schematics, they made up for in hustle. Clemson racked up 22 second-chance points, applying pressure on the Blue Devils to come away with points in most possessions.
The Blue Devils will head to upstate New York on Thursday to take on Syracuse before a three-game home-stand back in Cameron Indoor Stadium. It is anyone’s guess as to how Duke will fare with the rest of its difficult ACC slate.