No. 1 Duke struggles early, but beats Clemson 68-40

lkeeley@newsobserver.comJanuary 9, 2013 

— After Quinn Cook failed to hit any of his 11 shots against Wake Forest, he went back on the floor and took extra shots after the game. He came back that night, too, and shot some more in an attempt to clear his head. And then he received an extra mental boost from Mason Plumlee, who was the first one to text him after his tough shooting game.

“He just told me, you’re a great shooter, just keep shooting, we believe in you,” Cook said. “For your best player to tell you that, that’s the ultimate confidence builder.”

Cook game back and scored a career-high 27 points in Duke’s 68-40 win against Clemson. Cook finished 12-of-16 from the floor, a night-and-day difference from his 0-for-11 performance against the Deacons.

“You obviously think about it, but the next time in practice you have to move on,” Cook said. “Great shooters always move on to the next shot.”

Not many shots were falling for either team in the first half, as Duke led 25-10. Clemson (8-6, 0-2 ACC) made just three first-half field goals and scored 10 total points, tied for the second lowest output for an opponent during the Mike Krzyzewski era. The Tigers shot 3-of-25 from the field, or 12 percent.

The Blue Devils (15-0, 2-0) struggled, too, shooting 9-of-31 (29 percent) from the field in the first half, a season low. But Duke rebounded with its best shooting half of the season, going 18-of-25 (72 percent). Twenty of those points came from Cook.

Ryan Kelly, who had been averaging 20 points in Duke’s past two games, single-handedly outscored the Tigers in the first half with 12 points. But he did not play in the second half after re-injuring his right foot, the same foot he sprained over the holiday break. It’s also the same foot that caused him to miss the ACC and NCAA tournaments last season. Krzyzewski didn’t know the extent of the injury after the game.

The trio of Josh Hairston, Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy filled in for Kelly, and Krzyzewski was pleased with the play of all three. One area where Duke sorely missed Kelly was against the press, as he normally inbounds the ball. Plumlee struggled in that role, turning it over several times in the second half as Clemson went on an 8-0 run. Tyler Thornton hit a 3-pointer to put Duke back ahead 37-22.

Plumlee finished with eight points, 13 rebounds – 10 of which came in the first half when Clemson couldn’t buy a bucket – five assists and six turnovers. It’s the first time he was held below double digits this season. Plumlee has had his three lowest offensive outputs of the year in Duke’s last three games.

The credit for shutting down Plumlee goes to Clemson’s Devin Booker, who finished with 12 total points on 5-of-13 shooting and 15 rebounds. Krzyzewski considered the matchup a wash, and that, in his mind, was a win for Duke.

“Booker is their best player,” Krzyzewski said. “If Booker doesn’t have a dominant performance, we have a better chance of winning. That’s how I evaluate it.”

Krzyzewski reiterated after the game that Plumlee is Duke’s best player, even when he isn’t scoring at the rate he normally averages (18.4 points per game). Plumlee was still rebounding and playing great defense, Krzyzewski said, and his scoring is a plus. Duke has no shortage of options in that department.

“We did a reasonably good job on (Seth) Curry, a reasonably good job on Plumlee, a good job on (Rasheed) Sulaimon. The problem is that you just keep going,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “That’s why they’re so good. They have so many weapons.”

Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley

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