CLEMSON, S.C.— Three days after a gut-wrenching defeat against Virginia back in Durham, the Blue Devils ventured into Littlejohn Coliseum for a rematch against Clemson. This time around, Duke came out firing to an early 18-6 lead. Clemson tried to claw back into it, but the Blue Devils were not having much of that, finishing the half on a 20-13 run to take a 38-27 lead into the break. Here are our observations from the first portion of the action.
Eye of the Tiger?
It’s no Death Valley, but Littlejohn Coliseum was still ready to rock and roll with the seventh-ranked team in America in town. From a student section “swag-surf” to flames erupting while the Tigers’ starting lineup was being introduced, the pregame festivities were no slouch. Even during the contest, an appearance by Clemson football head coach Dabo Swinney on the jumbotron got the crowd roaring.
Once the ball was tipped, though, Duke seemed immune to any of the noise. Its performance has been by no means perfect, but the Blue Devils executed fairly well offensively and committed only five turnovers.
Just over two weeks ago, Clemson stretch forward PJ Hall gave Mark Williams and the rest of the Duke frontline fits by spacing the floor and serving as an offensive initiator from the top of the key. While that strategy yielded a litany of easy buckets off back cuts for the Tigers, Clemson head coach Brad Brownell has elected to use more high ball screen actions in the opening period in the rematch so far.
Despite Hall getting after it early Thursday, with a slam off a nifty dime from floor general Al-Amir Dawes, Clemson’s leading scorer was mostly held in check during the first half. In 17 minutes, Hall went just 3-for-9 and 1-for-2 from downtown. Can he bounce back out of the locker room, and drag the Tigers back into this one?
Here comes Paolo
Well, you can’t accuse him of not being aggressive. Paolo Banchero, who was doubled on the catch and shot it just once during the second half Monday, went to work from the jump in just his sixth career road game. The Seattle native was easily able to get to his spots in isolation, which may have played a role in Brownell going to a 2-3 zone for stretches of the half.
His usual blend of footwork and length was on full display, but Banchero also did not force things. An outstanding dish, with his left hand no less, to Williams out of the under-eight timeout showed just how unselfish and crafty the freshman is.
Wendell reclaims his mojo
With an average of just 8.5 points over the previous four contests, Wendell Moore Jr. had taken a slight back-seat—in the scoring column, that is—to Banchero and AJ Griffin. And through the first six minutes and change here in the Palmetto State, Moore was yet to hit a shot. But he left his brief mini-funk behind with a triple to put Duke up 14-6—a shot that came just after the North Carolina native took a charge on the other end.
Moore did not take over by any means, but the junior wing was steady throughout the initial stanza. Three assists, a +23 plus/minus and a thunderous jam off a steal near the three-minute mark were the highlights from what has so far been just another night at the office for the All-ACC candidate.
Player of the half: Theo John
He never blows up in the stat sheet, but John is always a reliable energy boost for the Blue Devils. Thursday has been no different, as the Marquette transfer was a pest on the offensive glass during his seven minutes. John was just 25% from the floor on four attempts, yet his impact on both ends was evident. Coming off the bench is all about bringing some juice, and John has done exactly that.
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Max Rego is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor for The Chronicle's 117th volume.