Duke men's basketball hits the road for Clemson looking to rebound from a home upset to Virginia. In anticipation, the Blue Zone takes a look at a player from both the Blue Devils and the Tigers who can be a difference-maker come Thursday evening:
Duke: Wendell Moore Jr.
The last time Duke played Clemson, the Tigers showed out and took Duke to the last possible seconds of the 71-69 Blue Devil victory. This was in spite of a double-double from Mark Williams, nearly 20 points from Paolo Banchero and 13 points from Wendell Moore Jr. What that game came down to was the Blue Devils getting outrebounded and outworked, as Duke looked sloppy for stretches and the Tigers played some of their best basketball. Still, Duke pulled out the win on the back of raw talent, but it shouldn't have to out-talent its opponents when it is fully capable of out-performing them.
This is where Moore comes in. He didn't have a bad game against Clemson, but he also didn't have a great one. Besides his 13 points, he had one assist, three turnovers and five rebounds, a far cry from the junior captain Duke faithful saw in the first half of the season that had three-straight 20-point games and averaged 17 points a game until the COVID-19 pause. If Clemson brings its A-game again, and expect that it will, the Blue Devils will need their captain to start returning to form. Moore can be an exemplary playmaker, a solid defender and an accurate shooter, but in recent games he's faded into the background.
As the Tigers made clear just a few weeks ago, Duke's stars can play great games and they'll still claw their way into contention. That's why Duke needs an all-around impact player like Moore to play at the top of his game. The areas of weakness that Clemson exploited are areas of the game that Moore can influence: limiting turnovers, offensive rebounds for second-chance points and overall creation of opportunities. If the Blue Devils want less of a nail-biting result than last time, their captain needs to step up.
Clemson: PJ Hall
PJ Hall was completely snake-bitten against Duke and still led his team with 14 points. He shot 28.6% from both the field and three, but he had by far the most shot attempts on the court with 21. Whether those shots were all quality looks is debatable, but the point remains that he was able to create a lot of opportunities for himself. If Hall has shaken himself out of his shooting rut, and those marks were considerably below his season averages, he can make or break the game for Clemson. And if Duke can't figure out a way to limit his opportunities, the Spartanburg, S.C., native could burn his opposition come Thursday.
Hall is also a formidable threat on the glass, tying Williams for last game's lead with 10 rebounds and averaging 6.2 on the season. He had four offensive rebounds, more than all of the Blue Devils combined, which helped his team to earn nine second-chance points. Standing at 6-foot-10 and 235 pounds, Hall has physicality to throw around in the paint, and he knows how to use it both offensively and defensively.
Additionally, with the loss of forward Hunter Tyson to a broken clavicle in the first half of Clemson's recent win against Florida State, Hall has to carry more of the Tigers' weight than he already did. In the second half against the Seminoles, Hall proved he was up to the challenge, not only erupting for 11 second-half points after four in the first, but also invigorating both his home crowd and his teammates. After narrowly falling to Georgia Tech on the road a few days ago in spite of 18 points from Hall, he will likely bring that same energy as the Tigers seek redemption in front of their fans.
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Sasha Richie is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.