CLEMSON, S.C.—The first 20 minutes of Saturday’s battle between No. 24 Duke and first-place Clemson were close from beginning to end, but the Blue Devils battled back from an early deficit to take a hard-earned 34-30 lead into the locker room. Head coach Jon Scheyer’s squad has the advantage with the second half coming up at Littlejohn Coliseum.
Roar, tigers, roar
Even in its off years, the ACC is a competitive conference, and sitting atop the standings is always a coveted honor. At tipoff, Clemson held that distinction and its fans were keen to keep it that way with thunderous pregame support and continued noise throughout the opening period. The cascade of orange and purple inside a packed house at Littlejohn Coliseum did its part, buoying the Tigers throughout a clumsy first half.
Although the rebounding statistics don’t drastically favor one team over the other, the Tigers’ dominance of the boards and suffocating presence in the post forced many of the Blue Devils’ usual scoring outlets to fight especially hard for buckets. In spite of this, Clemson was not particularly lethal with its own chances, leading to a relatively low-scoring first half more notable for its what-ifs than what actually happened. This made the game clunky and stop-start, with points rare and long defensive spells regular. Both teams will need to grit their teeth to eke this one out.
Filipowski at the forefront
Freshman center Kyle Filipowski has notched double-digit points in 15 games this season and has logged a double-double in seven of them. Filipowski has been Duke’s most consistent offensive outlet by far, and that continued Saturday evening. The Westtown, N.Y., native tied for the team lead in scoring in the first half with nine points and was also the Blue Devils’ best rebounder, pulling the ball down seven times. Scheyer will need some more fluidity from this group when the teams reenter, but Filipowski has continued to be a game-changer.
Part of Clemson’s unforeseen rise to the top of the ACC table has been its lethal ability to finish from downtown. Of the Tigers’ top five scorers, four have a 3-point percentage greater than 40%. In spite of this, Clemson struggled to convert its tries from deep in the opening 20 minutes, making a mere two of its 11 attempts.
Duke shot 3-of-8 from beyond but got hot late in the half courtesy of freshman point guard Tyrese Proctor. The Sydney native pulled the Blue Devils ahead with two quick treys and a gutsy and-one, supplemented with a lob to Dereck Lively II for the alley-oop to go up 30-22. This has been a game largely fought in and around the bucket, and unless both teams find some real heat from 3-point land, this game has all the markings of a physical, beat-up nailbiter.
Player of the half: PJ Hall
The Tigers have shot impeccably so far this season, in large part due to the 51.7% average clip from the floor by PJ Hall. In the first half, however, the junior center showcased his wide range of talents, grabbing Clemson’s first points of the game and causing Duke all sorts of problems with his versatility. The Spartanburg, S.C., native’s 18 first-half points were far and away the most for either team, and he added three rebounds before the halftime buzzer. He will require increased attention by the Blue Devils after the break if they hope to put this game away and break Clemson’s unbeaten run. It’s Hall’s ballgame right now.
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Andrew Long is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.