Duke ‘not tough enough,’ upset by Clemson 72-59

lkeeley@newsobserver.comJanuary 11, 2014 

— At this point, it’s obvious, but it was still something to hear Mike Krzyzewski say it after Clemson’s 72-59 manhandling of Duke.

“We’re not a good team right now.”

Krzyzewski said it a few times after his team turned in season-lows in several offensive categories. One of the nation’s most dynamic offenses shot 25 percent from the field in the second half, when the game was on the line, and 33.9 percent overall for the game. The No. 16 Blue Devils (12-4, 1-2 in the ACC) also posted lows for points and made field goals.

And that was how it looked on offense, which is the Blue Devils’ strength. Clemson – which has now won three games over ranked opponents in coach Brad Brownell’s four years – has one of the nation’s best defenses, but that doesn’t fully explain why Duke went the last six minutes, 23 seconds without a field goal. Duke was down only 59-57. The Blue Devils lost by 13 – and it would have been more if Clemson had shot better than 60 percent from the free-throw line.

And that is what’s most concerning for Duke. Not only are the Blue Devils not good, but they’re also not tough, as they struggled when the stakes rose and the sold-out Littlejohn Coliseum was at its loudest.

“We usually get a team’s best atmosphere. We usually get a team’s best effort,” Krzyzewski said. “Over the years, that type of situation has made our teams better. Right now, our team is not getting better in that situation. So we have to figure that out.”

Most of the postgame talk in the locker room focused on that, on why it was Clemson, and not Duke, that took control of a tight game hanging in the balance during the final minutes.

“We didn’t play tough,” Quinn Cook said, his back to the rest of the room as he stared into his locker. “In the first half, we played tough. In the second half, we let up, and they played great. It just stings. We have to grow up. We have to grow up.”

Tyler Thronton offered a few more specifics.

“They knocked us back,” he said. “In the first half, we did a good job of handling it. In the second half, we just didn’t have enough juice to fight through that and play through that. They were able to get easy baskets, get easy drives to the basket on the offensive end. Key offensive rebounds, put-backs, that was the key to the game.”

Duke had defended well in the first half. Clemson (11-4, 2-1) did have seven offensive rebounds, but those had resulted in just seven second-chance points. Both teams had 14 points in the paint apiece. Clemson went nearly six minutes without a field goal until scoring five points in the final 76 seconds, but the Blue Devils still led 37-31.

And then after halftime, Duke’s defense broke down from the start and didn’t recover. Rod Hall opened the half with three consecutive lightly contested drives, converting two. Duke sandwiched those with misses on its own end, forcing a Krzyzewski timeout with Duke holding a five-point lead.

That trend continued – drive, drive, drive – as Clemson’s first 11 points all came on drives and free throws.

Clemson paired that with superior rebounding – the Tigers pulled down seven offensive rebounds, or 41.2 percent of all rebounds at that end (Duke had just 10 defensive rebounds). Clemson had three players finish with 10 or more rebounds – Jaron Blossomgame (14), Landry Nnoko (13) and K.J. McDaniels (10).

“We’re a small team,” Krzyzewski said. “And we need to make up for it in other ways. We’re not some powerhouse. You’re watching that game, they’re bigger.

“We’re not physically strong. We have to do things collectively, especially on rebounding. Everyone has got to be rebounding. And you hope that you can match the other team. Not out-rebound them, but match them.”

Clemson only took four shots from 3-point range in the second half (making two), as the Tigers took advantage of what the Blue Devils’ defense was giving (the paint) to shoot 51.9 percent from the floor in the second half.

Despite all that, it was just a two-possession game with three minutes remaining. It never felt that close though, as the Blue Devils started to let their frustration show after foul calls. Rasheed Sulaimon looked up and put his hands on his head; Andre Dawkins looked down and put his hands on his knees.

Rodney Hood, who led Duke with 20 points on 7-of-16 shooting, said it could have gone Duke’s way in the second half. In theory, at least.

“But we weren’t tough enough to make the play,” he said.

Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley

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