CLEMSON, S.C.—Every seat in Littlejohn Coliseum had a shirt draped over it that read “Grit Lives Here,” and the cheap cotton T-shirts turned out to be right.
The 24th-ranked Blue Devils made the short trip from Durham to Clemson, S.C., to take on the Tigers Saturday evening and the two squads traded heavy blows for all 40 minutes. Duke had some standout performances from freshmen Tyrese Proctor and Kyle Filipowski, which were especially key with Jeremy Roach out with a toe injury once again, but in the end, Clemson bested the visitors 72-64.
Proctor put together a career night for himself, totaling 17 points, and Filipowski put up another double-double with 18 points and 14 rebounds, but neither performance was enough. As impressive as both Blue Devils were, the star of the evening was Clemson’s PJ Hall, who finished with 26 points on a 10-of-16 mark thanks to a mixed bag of post moves.
"He's a handful—big body, knows how to use it, can score over either shoulder," Scheyer said of Hall.
With 7:32 left, Duke (13-5, 4-3 in the ACC) clung to a 54-53 lead. Just seconds later, Brevin Galloway drained a three and followed that up with a layup to give the Tigers (15-3, 7-0) a four-point lead in a game in which baskets were hard to come by.
But the Blue Devils didn’t roll over either and went on a run of their own to make it 58-57 in Clemson’s favor with three minutes left. Ian Schieffelin made a layup to stretch the lead back to three and after a Galloway and-one, the Tigers delivered the knockout punch to remain undefeated in ACC play.
"Disappointed for our guys. Thought we were ready to play, thought we fought, thought we were right there. Just learning how to win," Scheyer said. "Not gonna stop for us. We're gonna continue to go and learn from this and keep building."
Each time it looked like Duke had enough of a lead to put Clemson away, the Tigers scratched and clawed their way back into the game and with 12:26 left, it was tied 44-44 as Duke head coach Jon Scheyer took a timeout.
Clemson’s first lead of the second half came courtesy of Ben Middlebrooks, who converted an and-one to put the Tigers up 47-46. But Duke hit back, with Jaylen Blakes burying an elbow pull-up. The next two possessions were crucial for Duke, which grabbed two offensive rebounds that both led to layups and put the Blue Devils up 52-47.
The big question during the first half was the disappearance of Hunter Tyson, Clemson’s leading scorer who had zero points in the opening 20 minutes. Tyson scored Clemson’s first two buckets of the second period, the second of which was a vicious two-handed slam to send the crowd into a frenzy.
Tyson wasn’t the only part of Clemson’s usual game plan that was off. The Tigers came into the contest leading the ACC in 3-point accuracy at 40.4% but finished the night just 3-of-17. Fortunately for them, Duke also struggled from downtown with a 3-of-20 mark.
"If you were to tell me they had three threes and we lost, I would tell you 'No way' but think on the flip side they really got to our paint and got to our rim," Scheyer said. "That's something we need to address."
The Blue Devils traded baskets with Clemson for the first five minutes of the second half and appeared to have the Tigers at bay. Filipowski and Proctor continued to find good shooting spots and big man Ryan Young attacked the rim to earn his layups and free throws. But Clemson mounted another run and prevented Duke from going on cruise control for any amount of time.
Much like the Blue Devils’ Wednesday win against Pittsburgh, Duke turned to Filipowski and Proctor to carry the offense early on. Each finished with nine points in the first half and injected momentum into an otherwise stale Duke offense.
Even with Proctor and Filipowski’s offense and some tough defense from center Dereck Lively II, Clemson commanded the majority of the first half. Hall was dominant with his 18 points but Duke still managed to jump out to a 30-22 lead at the 2:44 mark. It looked like the Blue Devils were going to carry a comfortable lead into the half until Hall and Galloway responded with some buckets of their own to keep Duke’s lead to 34-30.
Overall, the first half was sloppy from both sides. Both had six turnovers and struggled from the field during the opening 12 minutes of the contest. The difference early on came from the timeliness of the buckets, and no player on the floor was more clutch than Proctor, who nailed two consecutive threes to put Duke up 26-22.
The crowd was locked in from Clemson’s first bucket. After the Tigers corralled an offensive board and Hall sunk a hook shot, all the Tiger fans in attendance erupted, foreshadowing the evening to come.
Hall scored Clemson’s first five points before being subbed out and gave the Tigers a 5-2 lead four minutes into the game. Despite his hot start, Clemson struggled to find the bottom of the net from 3-point land early, a formula that had been a key reason for the Tiger’s 6-0 start to conference play. At the end of the first half, Clemson had shot just 2-of-11 from downtown and was still only behind by four points.
Duke has a week off until its next matchup, in which it plays host to No. 16 Miami Jan. 21 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
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Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.