Proctor, McCain's hot hands punctuate efficient day for No. 12 Duke men's basketball backcourt against Clemson

Tyrese Proctor takes a deep breath before shooting a free throw to close out Duke's game against Clemson.
Tyrese Proctor takes a deep breath before shooting a free throw to close out Duke's game against Clemson.

When No. 12 Duke needed it most, its backcourt stepped up. 

Clemson was on a 31-20 run since the 18:12 mark of the second half and led 57-56. The Tigers had all the momentum and effectively neutralized the Cameron Crazies as PJ Hall and Joseph Girard III were heating up.  

With 6:18 left and the shot clock running down, Tyrese Proctor caught the ball about 25 feet from the hoop. He launched the deep ball and it was all nylon to put the Blue Devils up two. That was a small moment in a long game, but Proctor’s composure and coolness in the clutch was on display all night, especially with the final two free throws. 

“The three that he hit was huge, huge,” said head coach Jon Scheyer. “It was kind of a made-up play out of nothing.”

Proctor’s defense was equally impressive, locking down Girard in the entire first half and rarely giving him any good looks. 

His return from injury has been up-and-down, but the Sydney native is now playing like a more developed and more composed version of his already elite freshman self, which spells danger for the league. 

“It's a moment you dream about being in, you get a chance to win the game, you're down one with a second to go,” Scheyer said. “But [Proctor] was cool as can be. I just believed those were going in with everything I had.”

At the other guard spot, freshman Jared McCain continued his excellent season with key plays on both ends of the floor. He finished with 21 points and was a perfect 8-for-8 inside the arc, which is extremely rare for a guard. 

Perhaps most importantly, McCain had two steals in the final two minutes. He jumped the passing lane and finished on the other end when Clemson was up by four with just under 90 seconds left. Even in the first half, when Duke played some of its best defense all season, McCain dove on the floor for loose balls and set the tone early. 

“When things get tough, you just feel like Jared is gonna make a play,” Scheyer said. “It doesn't matter if he's a freshman. Doesn't matter if he's never been in a situation like this before. He just has a belief his team's supposed to win.”

However, this was a game where the Tigers arguably outplayed the Blue Devils, especially in the second half. It definitely exposed some weaknesses in Duke’s team, which could shine brighter come March. 

Clemson has height and size at the forward position which makes head coach Brad Brownell’s squad a tough matchup. To make matters worse, Filipowski struggled with foul trouble throughout the game, picking up his third foul with 17:57 remaining and then his fourth with 11:53 left. 

In his absence, Duke struggled to defend Hall, as he picked up steam and cut into the Blue Devil lead. On top of this, the offensive rebounding helped Clemson, as a three by Girard — his first of the day — came off an Ian Schieffelin rebound.

Frankly, Kyle Filipowski and the rest of Duke’s bigs did a tremendous job guarding Hall — the first-team All-ACC center — in the first half and the beginning of the second. Hall made tough and uncomfortable catches in the post, and did not look like himself in the paint. But throughout the course of the game, the Tigers’ interior presence and depth emerged superior. 

“I think Clemson’s size is legit,” Scheyer said. “They're physical. They do a really good job walling up inside, and they have multiple bodies that they can put on [Filipowski].”

Duke’s interior presence and depth could be its Achilles heel moving forward, especially as it sorely misses the shot-blocking ability of Dereck Lively II from last season. In addition, the Blue Devils outrebounded teams on average by 7.9 last year in comparison to 3.5 this year. 

While Ryan Young, Sean Stewart and TJ Power have all flashed potential in spurts, none have established themselves as consistent options off the bench for Scheyer to rely on in crunch-time minutes. That is understandable, as Stewart and Power are still very young and it takes time to adjust to the college game. This year in particular, however, there are so many talented big men across the country, and Duke needs to keep up if it wants to compete down the stretch.

Nevertheless, one of the key ingredients in the recipe to postseason success is elite guard play, and right now, the backcourt is cooking. 


Ranjan Jindal profile
Ranjan Jindal | Assistant Blue Zone editor

Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

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