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Key three: Duke men's basketball must convert free throws against Clemson

<p>Vernon Carey Jr. has improved his free-throw shooting, but can has room to grow.</p>

Vernon Carey Jr. has improved his free-throw shooting, but can has room to grow.

Before Duke takes on Clemson, the Blue Zone gives you three keys to Tuesday's matchup:

Stay hot

Duke’s play in the last few games has it looking like one of the best teams in the country. Since the New Year’s Eve game against Boston College, the Blue Devils are averaging 86.5 points per game and have outscored opponents by 112 points across the last four contests. The shooting woes that plagued the team earlier in the year seem to be fading away as well. Saturday night against Wake Forest, the Blue Devils shot 47.8 percent from three, an encouraging sign after a cold showing in the previous game against Georgia Tech.  

Duke looks like a well-oiled machine right now. The Blue Devils are clicking in all facets of the game and are getting consistent production from virtually the entire roster. If they play like they’ve been playing, Clemson shouldn’t be too much of a hurdle to clear.

Tre being Tre

Tre Jones has been playing out of this world since returning from injury, totaling 27 assists to just eight turnovers in the past four games. Along with facilitating and taking care of the ball, Jones has ramped up his scoring, dropping 23 points against the Demon Deacons. Jones is making a strong case for the title of the best point guard in the country, and if his level of play elevates, then he could emerge as a compelling candidate for the Wooden Award.

The star point guard’s defense has been elite, per usual, lately. In the last eight games, Jones is averaging almost three steals per game. The Apple Valley native has a lot riding on this season. Not only can he improve his draft stock, but if Jones can lead this team to a national championship, he can ascend to the legendary status that his brother Tyus was able to achieve as a Blue Devil.

Free throws

If there were one thing to nitpick about Duke’s recent performance, it would be its free throw shooting. Only making 13 of 25 free throws in a game isn’t a huge deal when the Blue Devils win by 31 points, but when ACC play gets more competitive, free throw shooting could be the deciding factor in important games.

It’s still relatively early in the season, and free throws should only improve with more experience. The roster is also riddled with reliable free throw options to utilize in late game situations. Cassius Stanley, Jack White, Jones, Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt and Joey Baker are all shooting above 70 percent from the line, a further testament to Duke’s depth in all facets. The poor performance from the stripe against Wake Forest is probably an anomaly, but it is important to ensure that that anomaly doesn’t carry over into the game against Clemson.

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