The saying goes that revenge is a dish best served cold, but in college basketball, it is better to serve it in March.
The Duke Blue Devils enacted some revenge of their own in the ACC tournament quarterfinals Friday night, although it certainly wasn't easy. Duke beat Clemson, 63-62, and Jabari Parker led the way with 18 points.
It took two Rodney Hood free throws with less than four seconds remaining to ultimately give the Blue Devils the win in a game they held a double-digit lead in during the middle of the second half. Clemson failed to get a shot up in its last possession, as Rod Hall got to the paint but ultimately lost the ball.
The foul call that put Hood on the charity stripe was somewhat questionable, as can be seen here (courtesy of James Curle):
Tyler Thornton discussed his strip on Clemson's final attempt, according to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com:
"He was coming so fast, and I was just trying not to hit him on the body. And then I saw an opportunity to swipe at the ball when he went through, and I hit it."
The Tigers won the only regular-season matchup between the two teams, 72-59. To be fair, that game came during something of a rough patch for the Blue Devils when they lost two of their first three ACC games.
Duke looked ready to get that revenge in the early going and jumped out to a 15-9 lead, but the first half quickly turned into a defensive slugfest.
Clemson gradually came back and seized a 19-17 lead of its own behind multiple blocked shots and conversions on the corresponding offensive possessions. The Blue Devils appeared like they were going through the motions for a few minutes after the initial lead, as Blue Devils Digest pointed out:
Nothing to say. Can not get energy away from home.— Blue Devils Digest (@BlueDevilDigest) March 15, 2014
However, a flurry to end the half energized Duke.
Mike Krzyzewski’s squad connected on multiple alley-oops, converted on a Parker dunk and scored off an impressive defensive play by Amile Jefferson. Duke Basketball appreciated the effort:
Jefferson scoops up the steal and dishes it ahead to Parker for the slam. Duke getting fired up near the end of the first half.— Duke Basketball (@dukebasketball) March 15, 2014
Of course, it's easy to go on runs when you get offensive opportunities like the one Hood received, as Jeff Fischel of the ACC Digital Network acknowledged:
After the run, the Blue Devils had the momentum and a 29-25 lead heading into the locker room. However, if there was one reason for concern it was the fact that Duke, which is typically so reliant on its long-range shooting, was not connecting from behind the three-point line:
The Blue Devils now have more points off alley-oops (4) than they do from the 3-point arc in the entire game (3).— Duke Basketball (@dukebasketball) March 15, 2014
Jordan Roper led all scorers at intermission with 11 points off the Clemson bench, while Parker paced Duke with 10 and Hood added eight.
The lack of early energy from the Blue Devils perspective may have come from the fact that they were rusty. Krzyzewski, while also praising how far his team has come heading into the postseason, suggested squads that don’t receive the double-bye in the ACC tournament may have an advantage, via ESPN.com:
The fact that we got the double-bye is excellent because that means we have a good record, won 13 conference games. I'm proud of our team. You come after Clemson, you're 1-2 (in the ACC).
These teams that have already played in the tournament, that Friday have an advantage over the top four seeds because they're into the tournament already.
If Clemson had an advantage, it didn't show when the two teams came out of the locker room.
The Blue Devils jumped all over the Tigers to start the second half. Thornton drilled a three-pointer, and Hood hit a running hook shot in the lane to give their squad a 42-29 lead. ACC Men's Basketball pointed out that Rasheed Sulaimon helped Duke grab a double-figure lead with efficient scoring:
Clemson climbed back to within eight points behind a three-pointer and an offensive putback slam from Landry Nnoko. Nnoko followed that up with another basket, which cut the lead to 50-44, and suddenly the neutral fans in the arena woke up a bit.
Just when it looked like the Tigers were making a charge, Parker reminded everyone who the best player on the floor was with a basket down low. He has been making plays in the post in the second half of the season, and Jerry Meyer of 247Sports noticed:
We all projected Jabari Parker as a small forward but I now like him as a four man in the NBA.— Jerry Meyer (@jerrymeyer247) March 15, 2014
The teams traded baskets on multiple possessions before Hall drained a three-pointer to suddenly cut the lead to 56-53. A game that seemed so in hand for the Blue Devils for much of the second half was in peril, as Nicole Auerbach of the USA Today pointed out:
Duke's lead over Clemson is down to three points with 3:35 to go. Oh boy.— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) March 15, 2014
The Tigers trimmed the deficit to one point, but Sulaimon rose to the occasion and got to the line. However, he only hit one, which gave Clemson the ball tailing 61-59 with one minute remaining.
A free throw and defensive stop later, Hall finished in the paint to give the Tigers a 62-61 lead. Hood responded by driving coast to coast and drawing a foul with 3.8 seconds left.
The underrated Robin to Parker's Batman delivered by hitting both free throws, and the Blue Devils were suddenly clinging to a tenuous 63-62 lead.
Duke fans finally got to exhale when Hall lost the ball on his desperation drive.
Jabari Parker, Duke: B
Parker did lead all scorers with 18 points, but he struggled from the field (6-of-17) and didn't really enforce his will on the game like he has in the past. Parker also ended up with only three rebounds, which is partially a testament to Jefferson's 13 boards.
Rodney Hood, Duke: A-
Hood's grade receives something of a boost because he connected on the two free throws to win the game.
In his first career ACC tournament game, Hood came through when the lights were brightest. He finished with 17 points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal, but it was the ice water in his veins in the final seconds that was noteworthy.
Rod Hall, Clemson: B
It was Hall and Nnoko who carried Clemson's offense in its run in the second half and not leading-scorer K.J. McDaniels.
Hall finished with 13 points, but it was the final play that will likely stick with him for quite some time. Had he gotten off a shot, he could have been a hero.
The Blue Devils will take on North Carolina State Saturday in the ACC tournament semifinals after the Wolfpack upset Syracuse Friday.
As for Clemson, the Tigers are in all likelihood on the outside looking in when it comes to the NCAA tournament. Assuming they are in the NIT, the Tigers will be a difficult opponent for whoever has to play them in that field.
Duke will certainly be in the NCAA tournament and still has a chance at a No. 1 seed. It will have to beat the Wolfpack to stay alive in the race for a No. 1 seed, but Duke already obliterated North Carolina State in the regular season, 95-60.
It won't be as easy the second time around, but look for the Blue Devils to advance to the finals with another win Saturday.
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