After each Duke men’s basketball game of the season, check back here for the Player of the Game and more. The Blue Devils fell at the hands of Clemson, and the Blue Zone breaks down tough loss:
One player: PJ Hall
For the majority of the contest, PJ Hall was Clemson’s offense. The junior scored 18 of the Tigers’ 30 first-half points, keeping them in a game that it seemed like Duke would close out. Despite still not being 100% after a knee injury he suffered in July, the center led his team in scoring on a 10-of-16 day from the field. He made one of his team’s three 3-pointers and drained 5-of-7 of his free throws, getting it done across the board.
Hall scored 10 of Clemson’s first 12 points. When no one else could get points on the board, he put his team on his back, single-handedly keeping the game close throughout the first half before the Tigers took control in the second. The Spartanburg, S.C., native put on the definition of a clutch performance, and it was too much for Duke to handle.
One word: Grit
It was plastered across nearly every chest in the stands of Littlejohn Coliseum: “Grit Lives Here.” The game was a heavyweight matchup between a hot Clemson team and a Duke squad yet to prove itself; it was bound to be an intense contest determined by whoever could come up with the big plays down the stretch. And that team was the Tigers.
Despite their four-point halftime lead and eight-point advantage later in the second half, the Blue Devils’ play quickly deteriorated when it came down to the wire. With 5:07 to play, freshman Mark Mitchell grabbed his own offensive rebound and sank the layup to cut Clemson’s lead to two. That was the last field goal Duke would make. While it had the lead, and the win, in its sights, it could not fend off the Tigers’ gritty defense and tough shots.
One stat: 6-for-37 from three
That is 16.2%—combined. Each team only made three shots from beyond the arc, and it’s not because they weren’t putting them up. For Duke, its 15% mark is nothing new. It has struggled with the three on the road, making less than 15% of its deep shots against Kansas and Purdue, both games it lost. When the Blue Devils needed offensive production down the stretch, no one could get their shots to fall, highlighting a recurring issue and resulting in the loss.
The Blue Devils play on the other end of the court, however, has been a completely different story. The top three-point defense in the ACC continued its stifling perimeter coverage, holding the Tigers to just 3-of-17 from beyond the arc. Clemson is a strong 3-point team, currently ranked first in the conference with five players making at least 40% of their long shots. Duke’s defense, once again a bright spot in a slow offensive showing, shut down the Tigers’ strength with an effort largely led by sophomore Jaylen Blakes. Its offense, however, could not capitalize.
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Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.