Duke's 'D' returns with a vengeance

Staff writerJanuary 24, 2010 

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Duke's Miles Plumlee, left, defends a drive by Clemson's Trevor Booker (35) during the second half at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C.

TED RICHARDSON — TED RICHARDSON - trichard@newsobserver.com

— After a one-game sabbatical, Duke’s defense returned Saturday night against Clemson to key a 60-47 ACC win that was as subtle as a sledgehammer.

Duke was “uke” on Wednesday against N.C. State, having forgotten the “D” almost always synonymous with Mike Krzyzewski’s best teams. N.C. State shredded the Blue Devils’ defense for so many layups and dunks in that one that the Wolfpack ended up winning 88-74 in Raleigh, scoring 15 more points than any other Duke foe has managed all season.

But Duke got defensive again vs. Clemson. The Tigers had only scored 53 points in a 21-point loss to the Blue Devils earlier this month in Cameron Indoor Stadium and ended up with six fewer this time.

“It was a man’s game out there tonight,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Points were very difficult to come by. And I thought our defense was outstanding.”

Don’t just blame it on a poor shooting night for the Tigers. Every Clemson jump shot was contested. And driving to the middle for the Tigers was a trip fraught with peril, like trying to navigate a thigh-high briar patch in shorts and bare feet.

Clemson had trouble getting decent shots anytime the ball wasn’t in star big man Trevor Booker’s hands, and it wasn’t in the hands of Booker (22 points) often enough because Duke made it so hard to get it there. Duke was prickly and ornery and made everything tough.

Clemson had defeated Duke by 27 points and North Carolina by 19 in the past two years at Littlejohn Coliseum -- an underrated ACC venue that can get very loud very quickly.

This time it was 23-all at halftime, as the Tigers’ pressure scheme kept Duke from scoring much in the first half, too. But then Duke played its best half on the road this season. The Blue Devils started off by forcing a couple of early Clemson turnovers and rolled from there.

“I give Duke all the credit in the world for their defense,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said.

The night had a big-game feel. ESPN’s College Game Day was at Clemson Saturday – the first time ever for basketball, although the program has broadcast on football game days from Clemson several times.

The Clemson students brought dozens of signs to Saturday night’s game, the most inventive of which may have been the one that claimed of Brian Zoubek, Duke’s 7-foot-1 bearded center: “Brian Zoubek cries while reading ‘Twilight.’ ”

It was Duke’s defense and guard Nolan Smith who made Clemson’s fans shed tears Saturday, however. Smith (22 points) kept shooting runners – launched off one foot while at a peculiar angle to the basket – and they just kept falling.

“He has the ability to create his own shot,” Krzyzewski said of Smith. “He’s not great at it, but he’s the best guy we have at doing that.”

No.7 Duke and No.17 Clemson were both coming off losses earlier in the week. But Duke seems to have Clemson’s number this season, which isn’t unusual. Duke had a streak of 22 straight wins against Clemson until two years ago.

“This was a big win,” Krzyzewski said. “Clemson was ready. The community was ready. To come in here and win -- our guys should celebrate that. For one day.”

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