No. 5-seed Duke was upset 4-3 Thursday by No. 12-seed Clemson in the second round of the ACC tournament. The surprising early exit comes on the heels of a strong regular season for the Blue Devils, who entered the conference tournament as the 22nd-ranked team in the country.
Despite such a successful season, Duke was struggling ahead of its matchup with the Tigers, having lost both of its final two matches to in-state rivals Wake Forest and N.C. State. Against the Demon Deacons, the Blue Devils failed to record a victory and found themselves on the wrong end of a lopsided 4-0 defeat. The squad improved on that slightly against Wake Forest, but could still only muster two singles wins in a 4-2 loss.
As a result, the team was likely looking to turn the corner and rebound in the ACC tournament, and despite the tough stretch against N.C. State and Wake Forest, the Blue Devils could certainly be confident in their ability to take down Clemson, having just defeated the Tigers a few weeks earlier on Senior Day. The result of the April 3 matchup was never in doubt, as Duke secured the doubles point and won three singles matches to send Clemson packing without a single match on the scoreboard. Duke also benefitted from a first-round bye, while Clemson had to defeat No. 13-seed Boston College Wednesday to set up Thursday's match.
All things considered, even though the Blue Devils were on a short skid going into Thursday’s matchup, it was still their match to lose. Early on, all signs pointed to another dominant performance. With the sophomore duo of Niroop Vallabhaneni and Faris Khan winning 6-1 and juniors Garrett Johns and Michael Heller emerging victorious in a closer 6-3 match, the team won the doubles point and went up 1-0 heading into the singles. Now, the Blue Devils had to win three out of six singles matches to punch their ticket to the quarterfinals.
Considering Duke has often struggled in the doubles before posting commanding performances in the singles on its way to victory, winning half of Thursday's singles matches seemed like a routine task. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, their singles play let them down just when they needed it most. Duke won only two of the six singles matches and suffered an excruciating 4-3 defeat. The team was a single set away from advancing, but with the match tied at 3-3 and only one match still unfinished, freshman Connor Krug was unable to achieve victory as his three-set loss ended Duke’s ACC tournament run.
The quick exit certainly stings for the Blue Devils, who seemed to be primed to make a deep run in the conference tournament. Nonetheless, the squad still has a chance to end its season in style and make some noise in a much larger event—the NCAA tournament, for which the selection show will occur May 2. While the Blue Devils lost in the first round a year ago to South Florida, their improved play this season should give them more favorable seeding and a better chance to string together some victories in the season’s signature event.
Editor's note: Head coach Ramsey Smith was unavailable to speak following Thursday's match.
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