One word for Duke men's basketball against Clemson: Hope

Led by Matthew Hurt's 13 points, the Blue Devils employed a balanced attack to blow out Clemson.
Led by Matthew Hurt's 13 points, the Blue Devils employed a balanced attack to blow out Clemson.

After a lopsided victory at home, the Blue Zone is here to give you a summary of the Duke's game against Clemson in as concise a manner as we can—in one word:

One word: Hope

Whenever Mike Buckmire shows up on the scoring column of the stat sheet, you know good things are happening for the Blue Devils. Last year when the annual “Mike Bucket” moment happened, Zion Williamson and a couple more friends were visiting town, and Duke routed an average Notre Dame team by 34 points. Saturday afternoon, the senior guard notched his third collegiate field goal and Duke fittingly delivered its best performance of the season so far with a dominating 79-53 win. 

The victory over the Yellow Jackets Tuesday was a crucial turning point, but it still left many question marks. After all, the contest was neck-and-neck throughout and it was anybody’s game until the last minute. The contest against Clemson, however, was a completely different kind of victory. The Blue Devils put their feet on the gas pedal after a 2-2 tie and never looked back. In addition to the 26-point differential, Duke bested Clemson in all major statistical categories except for blocks. 

Tuesday night’s victory was one of reassurance, a victory that helped settle down the nerves of the players and the fans. Demolishing a Clemson team that just defeated Louisville and was ranked as high as No. 12 on the AP Poll earlier this season was a victory of hope, a victory that justified dreaming about bigger things, at least for the moment being. 

One stat: 20 assists

The Blue Devils scored 79 points Saturday, which is tied for their second-highest points in a conference matchup this season, and it was largely a result of great ball movement. Six players contributed to the total of 20 assists, with Jalen Johnson and Jordan Goldwire tallying five each. 

Johnson, Duke’s highest-rated recruit of the 2020 class, has long been heralded for his excellent court vision, which we finally got a glimpse in this game. In the first half, he fed Matthew Hurt in the short corner for the opening basket. With just over 11 minutes to go in the second half, the freshman phenom dished out a no-look dime to Mark Williams that will surely be in his Duke highlight-reel.

This willingness to facilitate helped players recover from cold shooting streaks. Per Synergy, Duke created 17 unguarded jump shot opportunities in the game, a drastic improvement from the win over Georgia Tech when the team only had six uncontested jumpers. Jeremy Roach and Wendell Moore Jr. put up 12 and 11 points respectively, while Joey Baker hit more than one shot from beyond the arc for the first time this season.

One player: Mark Williams 

Mark Williams is one of the youngest players on this Duke team and unlike some other freshmen, he showed his youth early in the year. Going into Saturday, the 19-year-old averaged less than two points per game and never demonstrated the ability to capitalize on his outstanding frame at either end of the floor. That all changed against Clemson.

In his limited 14 minutes of playing time, the freshman center scored a career-high 11 points, grabbed five rebounds and recorded two blocks. Coming off the bench in the first half, Williams displayed a level of aggression that we haven’t seen out of him before. He was actively calling for the ball, fighting for position in the post and boxing out his opponents whenever there was a loose ball in the air. 

Over six minutes into the game, Williams got the ball on the edge of the paint with his back to the basket. He calmly beat the shorter Clemson defender with a smooth spin and earned himself an additional trip to the charity stripe. This move epitomized the improvements Williams showed in this game—he’s more poised and confident but not any less energetic. He continued to assert his presence in the rest of the game with three powerful dunks.

For the Blue Devils to succeed in the near future and reclaim their berth in the tournament, Williams will be the X-factor. Hopefully, this Clemson game gave Williams the confidence needed to break through.


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