CLEMSON, S.C.—Some would say Duke had a lot to prove Thursday night. It was up to the task.
After dropping a close one at home against Virginia Monday night, Duke came out with a vengeance among a sea of orange and purple. The near sold-out crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum did not phase the Blue Devils as they searched for redemption, taking on Clemson for the second time this season. This time, though, Duke didn’t let the game come down to the final seconds, as it handily took it 82-64.
"We knew that [Clemson] would be ready for the crowd, and I liked the way my team responded to it," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game.
The player a cut above the rest was freshman guard Trevor Keels. Leading Duke with 25 points, and getting his first career double-double with 11 rebounds, Keels was the force the Blue Devils needed to prevail over a grungy game. The freshman had just two points in the first half, but he initiated a second-half surge that had the blue dots in the orange stands filling the stadium with cheers of “Let’s go Duke!” In under four minutes, Keels posted a pair of made free throws, two threes and a layup to send Duke’s lead over 20 points and really secure the win, even with a couple minutes still to go.
"Inside the locker room, Wendell [Moore Jr.] talked to me before the game and was like, 'You've got to play like yourself,' and it really helped me...that's what I did," Keels said.
David Thompson of the Fayetteville Observer then asked him what "reactivating Keel Mode" did for his confidence, to which Krzyzewski chimed in, “Let’s not go crazy—’reactivate the Keel Mode’...Don't start spoiling him,” with a proud smile on his face.
Sophomore center Mark Williams lost his first opening tip of the season, but Duke (20-4, 10-3) started with the ball, perhaps foreshadowing how the game would go. The Blue Devils didn’t play a perfect game, but they did play well enough to never let it get very close, as exemplary games from Williams and Keels lifted Duke to victory.
After a pair of buckets for the Tigers opened the second half, freshman forward AJ Griffin made his third triple of the game to put a stop to what looked like a developing Clemson run. A little later, junior Wendell Moore Jr. drove inside for a quick pass to Williams who slammed the ball in, but despite its best efforts, the one thing Duke couldn’t escape was the whistle. Just under three minutes into the half, the Blue Devils had already amassed three team fouls, which had resulted in four free-throw points for the home team.
That seemed to be the theme of the early second half, though. Despite quite a few real-time minutes passing, only a couple had fallen off the game clock, as the teams traded fouls and trips to the charity stripe, with 10 collective free throws shot in the first 10 of the half alone.
Out of the chaos of scoring runs and multitudinous fouls, Williams emerged as a confident and consistent force for Duke. Going a blistering 8-of-8 from the field—including two easy makes from midrange, something not all too common for the big man—Williams defined how the Blue Devils played the game. They scored 41% of their points in the paint and outrebounded Clemson 42-33, catalyzed by the Norfolk, Va., native. And for Duke, driving into the paint and handing the ball off to Williams for a dunk was almost a cheat code scoring play.
"I'm proud of Mark, because you're all over the court covering [PJ Hall] and you were able to finish,” Krzyzewski said, adding on about Williams’ ability to score on inside passes, “I saw [Clemson football head coach Dabo Swinney] right after the game, and he said [Williams] might be a good wide receiver…He made really good catches.”
The opening was back and forth, as freshman Paolo Banchero sank an open midrange shot only for it to be answered with a dunk from the Tigers’ PJ Hall. A Williams jumper and a pair of Al-Amir Dawes free throws and the game was tied at four. However, center Theo John, who entered just over three minutes into the game, got a putback layup on his own shot and Griffin sank his first three of the night to put Duke up by five.
While Clemson (12-12, 4-9) got a layup just a bit later, it was all Blue for the next few minutes, as Duke went on a 9-0 run, including another near-identical midrange jumper from Banchero and Keels emerging from some below-the-basket chaos for an and-one play. Far from the tight grind that was the teams’ first meeting in Cameron Indoor Stadium Jan. 25, Duke controlled the game and made it look easy for the first 10 minutes.
“They were accountable. They were in Keel Mode or Griffin Mode or Banchero Mode or whatever, but now you have to be in group mode,” Krzyzewski said of the Blue Devils’ effort, later saying, “[Clemson] played better than we did in Cameron. We were able to close out the game…but just remember how well they played.”
Still, Clemson was not to be outdone, as swapped steals from Banchero and Nick Honor leading to a Clemson score invigorated the Tigers, and they quickly cut the Blue Devils’ lead to four with less than 10 minutes to play in the first half. However, that triggered another 9-0 run for Duke, and in turn a 6-0 run for the Tigers, as minutes on the clock of a streaky half ticked away
With just over three to play in the first half, Moore stole the ball and made it across the court where he slammed in a dunk. However, on his way up, Clemson’s David Collins clipped him, causing Moore to land hard on his back. Though Moore stood up by his own power and continued to play, the play was reviewed and Collins was assessed a flagrant 2 and ejected from the game. Meanwhile, while the play was under review, things got chippy between the benches, leading to a technical foul on Duke. After the dust had settled, though, Krzyzewski and Collins met at the halfcourt line and embraced, signaling no hard feelings between the teams.
Duke takes on Boston College next on the road.
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Sasha Richie is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.