With 7:15 left in the first half at Clemson, things looked pretty good for Duke. The Blue Devils had a 12-point lead, at 28-16. Everything that had been going well for Duke – long-distance shooting and ball movement in particular – was clicking.
But that was short lived. By the time halftime arrived, Duke was just up by two. And it was the Tigers that won the game, 68-63.
Duke started out 6-for-8 from 3-point range and 11-of-16 from the field (68.8 percent). And on those 11 field goals, the Blue Devils recorded eight assists.
“We knocked shots down, and then we relaxed on defense,” Brandon Ingram said. “We knocked shots down, and then they came back and knocked shots down, too.”
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After the under-eight media timeout, Clemson went on a 9-0 run to cut Duke’s lead to 28-25 with 3:57 left in the half. Duke went 0-for-3 from the field with one turnover during that stretch. So it wasn’t like the Blue Devils completely fell apart. But they did let up – and perhaps that was involuntary.
Consider it another side effect from playing the six-man rotation.
“We don’t have as much of a chance to build on good,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They’re good, so you’re exerting a lot of effort. So, if you get an 8-10 point lead, you’re tired. And you still have to play through that. And then they came back.”
“We don’t have any alternatives. Unless we petition for more timeouts. That’s just the way it is. We have to fight through it, and we have to learn. The Amile (Jefferson) thing, we’ve been doing a great job, but it’s hitting us, especially when you get into this conference play. It really hits you.”
With Jefferson out indefinitely with his broken foot, lapses like the one against Clemson will be a risk for Duke in every game going forward. At this point in the season, with multiple conference games a week, there isn’t any time to build more stamina. It’s challenging enough just to maintain.