CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/ DURHAMIt certainly wasn’t going to get easier: Though the Duke University Blue Devils shot a mere 39 percent during first half of the team’s Sunday night ACC opener at home versus the Clemson Tigers, the Devils’ strangling defensewhich closed passing lanes and refused the Tigers the chance to establish any half-court rhythmlimited Clemson to 16 percent from the floor and just 12 points in the first 20 minutes. That’s a season low for the Tigers by nearly half. What’s more, Trevor Booker, the Tigers’ dominant forward, had scored only two, harassed as much by the long arms and body of Duke senior Lance Thomas as he was by a tempo that limited his explosiveness. Of course, it wasn’t going to last.
So, as the second half began Sunday night, the Tigers roared from the locker room, going on an 11-point run and wresting the momentum from Duke’s home-court advantage. While the Devils struggled with four missed three-point attempts and three fouls in as many minutes, Jerai Grant slammed a quick one. Booker drew a foul on a made layup and made the free throw. In just three minutes, the Tigers had reduced the lead from 18 to 7.
But Duke recovered on a series of five-point bursts and never again let the lead slip below 10, en route to a 21-point win versus the 21-ranked Tigers: After the Booker free throw, Scheyer chased a layup after his own turnover with a three off of a brilliant Nolan Smith pass. Three minutes later, the freshman Mason Plumlee, who scored all of Duke’s three bench points, grabbed an offensive rebound from a missed Scheyer three and laid it in for two. Scheyer immediately stole an inbounds pass from Booker, squared up from the right side and hit a three. When, the Tigers called a timeout, Duke Associate Head Coach Chris Collins jumped high, pumping his fists and screaming as though he were still in uniform. Coach Mike Krzyzewski was right behind him, pumping his fists, too.
“It’s like a five-point play because we just got two and then you get the three. It was 10-0 at the start of the second half and if you get five points like that you’d be very excited too,” Krzyzewski explained after the game, smiling.
Duke’s win demonstrated both its ability to handle a dominant inside presence like Booker without a premier big man of their own and to break the Tigers’ relentless press, something they failed to do last year in a rattling loss at Clemson. Thomas, who scored just four points, played the inbound role impressively, and Singler, Scheyer and Smith all succeeded in getting the ball up the floor. Schmingler also combined for 60 of Duke’s 74 points.
Sunday night’s victory was Duke’s third over a ranked opponent this year. In each of those wins, versus Connecticut, Gonzaga and Clemson, the opponent has shot less than 33.3 percent from the floor. Duke improves to 12-1 overall and 1-0 in the ACC. The Devils play Iowa State University in Ames Wednesday at 9 p.m.