Duke and Clemson were so evenly matched on Sunday, that neither team seemed to want to pull away from the other.
Clemson turned the ball over 13 times, while Duke turned the ball over 11 times. Duke shot 39 percent from the floor. Clemson shot 34 percent. Clemson had 38 rebounds. Duke had 37.
The biggest difference, however, was free throws.
Clemson took half as many free throws as Duke did. And when the Blue Devils got to the free throw line, they knocked them down.
Duke was 22-for-26 from the free throw line, including three clutch free throws by freshman guard Gary Trent Jr. that gave Duke a three-point lead with less than two minutes remaining.
Clemson did not score another bucket after Trent’s free throws and Duke picked up the 66-57 win. Duke (22-5, 10-4 ACC) now sits alone at second place in the ACC standings.
Here are five observations from the game:
1. Duke played another great defensive game
Duke’s zone defense made it difficult for Clemson to get easy shots on Sunday. Often times, Clemson would settle for long three-pointers. Clemson shot 34 percent overall from the floor.
Clemson managed to score only 57 points. It was the second game Duke has played since its head coach, Mike Krzyzewski announced that zone would be its primary defense.
So far it has worked.
Duke forced 13 turnovers and had six blocks. Freshman point guard Trevon Duval had a big game for Duke. Along with his 12 points, he had four steals, including a few that led to breakaway dunks.
“He was really active,” Krzyzewski said. “You see he’s talking more, to his team. So he’s more active. He too has taken a step up in these last three games. I think putting him in different spots offensively has helped him, and where the whole burden of just running the team isn’t on him. Grayson can take that and he can help him with that.”
2. Grayson Allen leads Duke in scoring again
Allen carried Duke in the first half. He had 17 of Duke’s 34 first half points, when many of its top players were having trouble hitting shots. Wendell Carter Jr. and Trent combined for five first half points and were 1-for-11 from the floor.
Allen only scored two points in the second half, but by that time, Carter and Trent managed to find somewhat of a rhythm.
Allen was 4-for-10 from the floor and 2-for-3 from behind the three-point line. He was also 9-for-9 from the free throw line.
Sunday’s game was the third game in a row that he has led the team in scoring. All three of those games, Bagley has missed.
3. Trent had an off game. But he was clutch when they needed him.
After Duke took a 10-point lead with 7:06 left in the game, Clemson answered with a 10-0 run over the next five minutes. A layup by Clemson junior forward David Skara tied the game at 57 with about two minutes left to play.
Trent, who has been clutch all season, was clutch again. With the ball in his hands, and Duke needing to make a shot, Trent launched shot a three-pointer from the corner and was fouled. He made all three free throws and Duke went back up by three points. Prior to that, Duke had gone more than five minutes without scoring.
Duke ended the game on a 9-0 run.
4. The Blue Devils will need Bagley
Duke struggled to score at times and shot only 39 percent from the floor. Duke is best when Bagley is on the floor and when the ball is in his hands.
Bagley, who averages 21.2 points per game and 11.4 rebounds, opens the floor up for players like Trent and Carter, who struggled to score on Sunday. Bagley commands double-teams and gives Duke second-chance opportunities.
Krzyzewski said he is pleased with the way his team has responded without him.
“He’s coming along so hopefully it’ll be soon,” Krzyzewski said of Bagley’s return to the court. “But it has given opportunities for Marques (Bolden), Javin (DeLaurier), Jack (White), Jack did a good job for us that normally he wouldn’t have. Javin played 30 minutes in a game and starting in February, that’s invaluable experience going forward.”
Allen has also had three straight games in which he led his team in scoring.
5. Duke wins a tight one.
Its been an up-and-down season for Duke when it comes to winning close games. Early in the season, Duke seemed to win all of its close games. In the PK 80 tournament in November, Duke won two games – against Texas and Florida – after being behind double digits. It won a close game against Indiana on Nov. 29.
But then it lost a close one to Boston College on Dec. 9, and close games to Virginia on Jan. 27, St. John’s on Feb. 3. and UNC on Feb. 8.
Duke was faced with that again on Sunday against Clemson. Clemson had tied the game at 57, with about two minutes remaining. The game could have gone either way. But Trent knocked down his three free throws, and the Blue Devils got a few stops during the game’s final minute.
“To close out the win at the end was huge,” Allen said. “When they put together a run and came back, we stayed together and stayed poised and finished it out strong. Gary (Trent, Jr.) hit those three huge free throws at the end and it kind of sealed it for us after we got a few stops.”