Joe Exotic may be the “Tiger King,” but Coach K has certainly earned the title “King of the Tigers” as Duke edged out Clemson 71-69 to give the Tigers their 20th straight loss in Cameron Indoor Stadium tonight.
After a back-and-forth first half, Paolo Banchero turned on the burners in the second half to propel the Blue Devils to their win. His 19 points led all scorers and his fingerprints could be seen on nearly every offensive possession in the final 20 minutes.
"[It] was an emotional plea," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said about the halftime speech he delivered. "An emotional plea from an old man."
Fittingly so, Banchero found the ball in his hands on Duke's final possession up two needing one bucket to solidify the game. A low-post move and excellent finish made a tough play look easy and put the game out of reach with 10 seconds left.
"I just wanted to close the game out. They stuck with us the whole game," Banchero explained. "It was winning time... Coach drew up the play for me again, put the trust in me to score down low and I had no choice but to finish."
This game was no domination. Every time Duke (16-3, 6-2 in the ACC) began to run away with it, Clemson (11-9, 3-6) would scrape and crawl its way back in. A seven-point Blue Devil lead was reduced to a one-point deficit with 5:50 to play in the second half, solidifying the idea that Krzyzewski’s squad was in for a battle down to the wire.
Clemson walked the ball up the court with 2:53 left and a tied game, but a whole team floor-slap by the Blue Devils spelled bad news for the visitors. The final three minutes of the game showed a revived Duke defense that pulled off back-to-back-to-back tough stops and allowed a four-point lead to be built that would set them up for victory.
"[Coach] just showed us his emotion, how bad he wanted us to win, and I think we came out in the a little bit flat. We weren't able to fight as hard as we needed to," co-captain Joey Baker said about Krzyzewski's halftime influence. "And at halftime, he told us that and I think we responded in a good way."
Duke’s second game without star guard Trevor Keels forced the Blue Devils to explore different offensive looks in which they couldn’t seem to find an offensive identity until the second half. The typical domination of the interior wasn’t working much at all—Mark Williams and Theo John combined for just six first-half points—and while the 3-point shooting started hot, it trailed off in the second quarter of the contest, allowing Clemson to remain right on Duke’s tail.
Wendell Moore Jr. additionally returned to his typical scoring self adding 13 points on 4-of-10 3-point shooting, while also adding two steals. The turnover bug continued to bite him tonight, as he was a large contributor to Duke’s turnover trouble with his three.
Perhaps what allowed Clemson to compete so fiercely with Duke throughout this game was a combination of their 3-point shooting and offensive rebounding. The Tigers put up 26 shots from deep, making 11 of them, and grabbed an astonishing 14 offensive boards, which was equal parts fantastic hustle and lackluster boxing-out.
Clemson head coach Brad Brownell clearly took notes from Duke’s loss to Florida State where high-ball pressure put the Blue Devils in a state of peril. The Tiger guards were all over the Duke ball-handlers as soon as they entered the halfcourt, not giving them any space. This pressure was effective to say the least as it forced 12 Duke turnovers, something the Blue Devils have been struggling mightily with recently.
"They knocked us back because it wasn't just pressure on the ball," Krzyzewski explained. "It was really old-time, man-to-man defense where we had a hard time making entries."
Brownell wasn’t the only head coach in the building pulling off some effective defensive tactics, though. Krzyzewski flashed his team in a 2-3 defensive zone that proved to be stifling at times.
The opening 20 minutes of this matchup were quite the back and forth affair. Neither team really seemed to be able to hold a lead, much less extend it past a few points. The Blue Devils entered the locker tied 36-36 in a game where they should likely not have been tied.
It seemed as though Duke was going to be pulling away early on as Moore knocked down a 3-pointer on the team’s opening possession and Griffin hit an electrifying and-one on the ensuing trip down the floor. But offensive struggles quickly broke out in the forms of the dreaded turnover and one-shot possession.
Foul trouble additionally provided the Blue Devils with some early struggles. Banchero picked up his second foul of the game just over four minutes into the contest and although Joey Baker entered the game in replacement, he too picked up a quick two fouls.
Krzyewski was forced to pull deep from his bench and presented lineups that no one could have expected in the first half of an ACC matchup. Along with Baker, Bates Jones and Jaylen Blakes entered the game to the surprise of many. Jones' contribution to this game was his largest of the season, playing nine minutes in the first half and totaling five points.
"The two kids that kept us in the game were Joey and Bates," Krzyzewski said. "They are outstanding."
Duke heads to Louisville next for a date with the Cardinals, who ESPN reported are going through a head coaching change that could mean Chris Mack will not be on the sidelines for this game.
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