GREENSBORO — With just less than seven minutes remaining, Duke was presented with a challenge and an opportunity: take control of a game waiting to be won.
It would take until the final seconds just 3.8 seconds to spare, precisely for the Blue Devils to win the game against Clemson, 63-62. After Duke (25-7) lost the lead with less than 10 seconds to go, Rodney Hood drove to the basket, just like he did against Vermont, Notre Dame and Syracuse. He was fouled by K.J. McDaniels, sending him to the line.
Then the redshirt sophomore, who had been throwing up into a towel earlier in the half, calmly made both. Clemson guard Rod Hall did not get a shot off at the other end, as Tyler Thornton stripped the ball in the paint.
The Blue Devils spoke in the week leading up to their ACC tournament debut about the need to play angry, how the pain of letting seven second-half leads slip away was more than enough motivation to make sure it didnt happen again.
At least one Blue Devil got angry Rasheed Sulaimon. With Duke clinging to a 56-53 lead with just more than three minutes remaining, Mike Krzyzewski called for a play that included Jabari Parker setting a screen for Sulaimon. Whatever Parker was supposed to do off of the screen, he didnt and Sulaimon let him have it. Krzyzewski called a timeout.
On the ensuing play, Sulaimon inbounded the ball to Amile Jefferson, who gave it right back to him, and Sulaimon went and made a floater in the lane. And it was Sulaimon taking a corner 3 in crunch time as well.
When Damarcus Harrison took the rebound the length of the floor to pull Clemson to within one at 60-59, it was Sulaimon who again made the play, driving toward the basket from the baseline and drawing the foul.
I really think we got tired, Krzyzewski said. Theyre a little bit more athletic than we are although were athletic and they can wear you down. Rasheed seemed to have a little spark.
Sulaimon made one free throw, and McDaniels made one at his end, too. But on the ensuing play, Sulaimon drove out of control at the basket, and Clemson converted at the other end with Hall temporarily putting Clemson up 62-61. Then Hood made the game-winning free throws.
I wish we had him for more than one year, Krzyzewski said of Hood, which should end any speculation about him returning to Duke next season.
Duke faces N.C. State, playing for a spot in the NCAA tournament, tomorrow in the semifinals.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley