The game clock ticked below five minutes, and what had been a comfortable 25-point Duke lead had melted to eight.
Mike Krzyzewski’s voice was missing from Duke’s bench. Steady senior Amile Jefferson’s talents were absent from their lineup.
On a very different day of ACC basketball at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the No. 8 Blue Devils needed someone new to star in the moment and Jayson Tatum became that man.
The 6-foot-8 freshman scored nine of his game-high 22 points over the game’s final five minutes, mixing in a couple of big defensive rebounds along the way, in a 93-82 Duke win over scrappy Boston College.
“It was different,” Duke acting head coach Jeff Capel said. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. But it was exciting, and it was exciting because these are our guys. That’s what I’m all about. I’m never into me. I’m all about our guys and this moment and stepping up to do whatever I can for our program.”
Associate head coach Capel coached the Blue Devils in Krzyzewski’s absence. The coaching staff symbolically left Krzyzewski’s seat on the bench empty, and it will stay that way until the Hall of Fame coach recovers from Friday’s back surgery.
“That’s out of respect,” Capel said. “That’s his seat.”
Jefferson, the 6-9 forward who’s averaging a double-double, injured his right foot during the first half and didn’t return to the game. It’s the same foot Jefferson broke in December 2015, an injury that caused him to qualify for a medical redshirt.
He’ll have tests on the foot to determine the extent of the injury. The injury came as the Blue Devils, having seen seven other players miss games due to injury this season, were finally able to have a complete roster for the first time on Saturday.
“I feel like this team can’t catch a break,” said Duke senior guard Matt Jones, a team co-captain along with Jefferson. “You don’t want to see anybody go down. But it’s kind of indicative of the year we’ve been having. Hopefully he’s all right. Obviously praying for him. We’re going to remain optimistic.”
Jefferson scored 11 points before his injury, and the Blue Devils had assists on 13 of their first 15 made field goals as they built a 20-point lead in the first half and led 53-34 at halftime.
Junior guard Grayson Allen, playing his second game since returning from suspension, had four assists before he took his first shot. Allen dished out a career-high 11 assists as Duke had 20 assists as a team. The Blue Devils had a season-best 24 in last Wednesday’s 110-57 thrashing of Georgia Tech.
As strong as Duke’s offense was over the game’s first 30 minutes, it went cold for a significant stretch of the second half. That, along with some porous Duke defense, allowed Boston College to cut the deficit under 10 points.
“We have a lot of young guys like myself,” Tatum said. “I guess we kind of looked at the score and saw that we were up. We can’t do that. We let them back in the game. We have to keep our foot on the pedal the entire 40 minutes.”
After leading 79-60, Duke missed 10 consecutive shots during one stretch as Boston College ripped off 11 points in a row to trail 79-71.
Freshman center Harry Giles, who scored 12 points before fouling out of his second career start, hit two free throws with 4:37 to play to restore Duke’s double-digit lead at 81-71.
Still, Duke needed big plays from Tatum to finally subdue the Eagles.
“It was big for us,” Capel said. “It was very big for us. He wanted to be in that position.”
First Allen zipped a pass under the basket to Tatum for a layup that halted Duke’s streak of missed shots.
With Boston College trailing 84-77, Tatum sank a 3-pointer with 1:59 to play giving Duke an 87-77 lead.
With the Blue Devils up 88-82 following a layup by Boston College’s Ky Bowman, Tatum sank two free throws with 42 seconds left putting Duke up 90-82. Tatum added two more free throws with 29 seconds left to give Duke a 92-82 lead.
After missing Duke’s first eight games due to a sprained right foot, Tatum, and to a lesser extent Giles, finally got a chance to make a big difference for Duke.
“It’s great, because myself and Harry missed a lot of games early due to injury,” Tatum said. “Now we are back healthy and playing with the team and we’re excited to be out there.”
Steve Wiseman: 919-419-6671, @stevewisemanNC