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If you didn't watch Sunday's game and just picked up the paper and saw the
final score was 81-55, you might think it was a typical Duke win over Clemson
(17 in a row, by the way), but that would be so wrong. Clemson showed up
and truly believed they could win and played that way for much of the game.
In fact, with 1:20 to go in the first half, it was a three-point game.
Shelden Williams made a three-point play, and Lee Melchionni hit a three with 10
seconds left to give Duke a nine point halftime lead.
Duke then scored five to kick off the second half, and while the lead went up
and down, basically, between 10 and 16 for a good while, the cushion was enough.
Duke pushed up to a 20 point lead at the 2:50 mark, but even though the 14 point
streak was essentially the difference for most of the second half, there was
never a real sense, to us anyway, that Clemson was coming back.
Don't get us wrong, we thought they played a superb game, gutty as hell, and
with a lot of discipline and focused emotion. It's just that even on
somewhat tired legs and after being on an emotional high after winning a
dramatic game in Chapel Hill on Thursday, Duke was still thoroughly superior.
We admire Clemson's effort, though, and they never quit playing hard, which
isn't something you could say about Clemson in recent years.
Despite a subpar effort, Duke got really solid games from Luol Deng and JJ
Redick, who combined for 45 points. Deng shot 7-10, and added 7 boards.
Redick shot 6-13, had 5 assists, and disappointed everyone by only shooting 90%
from the line for the game. Just kidding! His amazing free throw
percentage is one of the under-publicized accomplishments of the season.
The kid has only missed three, total, and is shooting around 97%, which is just
somewhat freakish. It's not that it doesn't get mentioned, but come
on. It's like a baseball player went on multiple hitting streaks and had
it discussed matter-of-factly, when it is nothing of the sort. It's
But in fairness, while Deng gets kudos for his all-around game, Redick has
significantly upgraded his versatility, but his glorious shooting eye gets most
of the attention. But there he is, making look-away passes, making steals,
controlling the ball at the end of every close game in hopes he'll be fouled,
playing much better defense than he did last year - Redick is an amazing
shooter, but he's no one-trick pony. The kid is becoming a very, very
solid basketball player.
What we've enjoyed seeing about Deng is similar - he can do just about
anything on the court - but as the season marches on, he's showing more and more
facets. In this game, he made a remarkable, lunging steal, and also, after
getting trapped just on the edge of the lane, ended up making a shot we didn't
really think he had. Add to that his rebounding, which is very solid, his
smart passing, and solid overall defense, and really about the only criticisms
you could make are that he could use some more weight, and he could be more
assertive at times.
The assertiveness seems to be taking care of itself lately, and that's a
great thing. At times against physical teams, he hasn't always pushed
himself to the fore, but lately he seems to be doing it more and more, and if he
keeps it up, Duke will head into the stretch drive with a huge asset they didn't
always have earlier.
Clemson really keyed on Shelden Williams, and held him to five points, and he
also fouled out, but in 25 minutes, he got 12 boards, including 5 offensive
Daniel Ewing had an off game, to be sure, and Chris Duhon, though solid,
wasn't as at as high a level as he has been lately.
Still, it can't be easy to play a game at a fever pitch like Duke did on
Thursday, and then come back to a team, who, to be honest, the rest of the ACC
has spent decades using as a punching bag. They've had intermittent
periods of excellence, but not many, and not all of them ethical, either.
They are in a position now, we believe, to become a better team for the long
haul. They've improved their facilities and their coaching, and the
coaching improvement is paying off in recruiting as well. Clemson can now
compete with Duke and UNC and Maryland, and that means they can go toe-to-toe
with anyone else in the ACC. We're happy to see it, and congratulate
Oliver Purnell on a tremendous coaching job this season. He probably won't
finish with a winning record, but he's laying a winning foundation for years to
come. Clemson made a wise decision.