Oh, the Blue Devils are going to owe Clemson something after this one. The Tigers came ready to play on the featured game of ESPN's Wednesday night schedule, Duke simply did not. The final score read, Clemson 74, Duke 47.
Having the opportunity to view the game from the scorer's table was a great surprise and afforded me the chance to see the one-on-one competition between the players.
I was shocked at what I saw.
The one item of Duke's play this season that I had been most proud of was the toughness that coach Krzyzewski's group had competed with in each game. That didn't happen tonight. Duke did not show up to fight, or compete.
By the 10 minute mark of the first half, it was apparent that preparation for the Clemson press was lacking for the Blue Devils.
Lazy, soft passing, and extended dribbling is not the answer to break full court pressure. Throw firmly, catch the ball with both hands, and pass ahead to split receivers at mid-court.
This did not happen and Duke turned the ball over again and again, often looking as though someone had just invented press defense. The same defense that was used to defeat Duke in 1964 for the National Championship. Time for a history lesson, boys.
From the Clemson standpoint, they looked physically mature and up to the task at hand.
Before the game, I questioned a numbers man for the Tigers sitting at the table about the losses a few weeks back to Wake Forest and UNC. I wondered how that would affect the confidence of the Clemson players.
"We weren't ready to play those games, we have to learn how to win," was the scholarly answer.
"Fair enough," I replied.
Clemson learned how to win by concentrating on their job at hand and constantly harassing Duke's shooters into less than ideal shots. The Tigers' won because they were ready to win, believed in their game plan, and executed it. They outplayed Duke.
It would be a disservice to Clemson to say that the Blue Devils played into Clemson's hands by trying so many three-point shots. That is not true. It didn't happen that way.
Duke only tried six shots from beyond the line in the first half, and only seven attempts in the second half. Clemson attempted 20 three pointers and made only seven.
The Blue Devils passed the ball inside the paint 31 times in the game. They tried desperately to take it inside and avoid the jumper, they just couldn't generate any offense. Clemson's defense, keying on steals, blocks, and unnerving pressure, simply disrupted the Duke attack.
Missing shots cost Duke the game. It allowed Clemson to get back on the break and did not allow the Blue Devils to set up their patented half-court man-to-man defense. This led to Clemson scoring.
The Tigers scored 74 points, more than Duke gives up normally but, certainly not an insurmountable figure. The Blue Devils have scored more than 74 on many occasions this season. The problem tonight was that Duke couldn't score.
A tip of the hat to the Tigers for a great performance tonight.
The rest of the schedule is competitive for Duke and there will be other challenges down the road. As a Duke fan, one must sincerely hope that coach Krzyzewski can get the men up for the future contests, and that there will be better performances to come for the Blue Devils.