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Duke Fights Past A Gutty Clemson, 87-77

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As we expected, Clemson, playing at home with a lot of passion, a juiced-up
crowd, and a coach whose reputation is catching up to his ability, gave Duke
fits before finally yielding, 87-77, in a very challenging game.

Clemson stayed close but the Tigers were probably doomed by only hitting 6 of
21 free throws. But that wasn't the only reason Clemson lost.

In the first half, Clemson's perimeter game was on, and the Tigers scored 15
points from behind the line. In the second half, they scored none.
Duke's defense was frustrating Coach K in the first half. It was pretty clear
what Clemson would have to do: without much of an inside game, the Tigers have
no choice but to turn the game over to their guards, and they were able to
dictate a lot of things in this game. Duke's inside advantage was negated
when Josh McRoberts only played 14 minutes and had negligible stats, with four
points, two blocks, and one board.

Clemson's three point shooters, particularly Shawan Robinson, had no trouble
getting their shots off in the first half, and Vernon Hamilton had a tremendous
game, going off for 31.

J.J. Redick had 34, but people are used to that. Hamilton doesn't pop
off for 30 points against a tough defense very often.

Clemson also rebounded very very well, considering their size
disadvantage. Duke only got 26 rebounds to Clemson's 33, including 19 on
the offensive end.

This was a tremendous game for Clemson, and even though they lost, it is
bound to be a confidence builder. If the low point of their season was the
Elon loss (and what else could it be?), their solid performance against Duke,
shooting 54.3% for the game against one of the conference's better defensive
teams, must be a positive. They gave Duke a much better game than Wake and
Maryland did.

As Coach K said afterwards, this was a dangerous game. A lot of
emotional energy went into the Wake and Maryland wins, and there was certainly a
chance of a letdown. But as impressive as Clemson was, and they were
really impressive, once Duke took and held the lead, late in the first half,
they had an answer for everything that Clemson did.

Not that they played perfectly - take a look at Coach K at the 10:24 mark,
after Sean Dockery's foul. Rarely do you see him show frustration so
openly. At one point in the game, he had to remind them that a couple of
Clemson's players were left-handed and were killing them driving left.
Knowing that, and not acting on it, would drive most coaches crazy.

Still, they had enough to win a tough road game. And it's not like
Clemson gave up. They kept coming the entire game.

Duke built double-digit leads otell n a couple of occasions, but the Tigers
kept forcing their way back into things. When Duke took a 62-52 lead on
two J.J. Redick free throws, it held for a while, but Clemson cut the lead back
to five within a few minutes. With 3:49 left, after another Duke push,
they had cut it down to six again.

But with each possession, their chances of pulling the upset
diminished. Duke has flaws, and Duke can be beaten, but what Duke does as
well as anyone in the country is to execute in clutch time. Whether it's
Redick scoring, or the defense of Sean Dockery, or Shelden Williams blocking a
key shot or grabbing a big rebound, this team handles winning time as well as
anyone around.

That comes from the seniors mostly, and the younger players pick it up from

Clemson's backcourt performed superbly, as did Miami's in their upset of UNC.
For much of the season, Duke has had trouble with quicker guards. We saw
in the Maryland game, though, what DeMarcus Nelson can do for this team when he
is healthy. He is basically a one-man wrecking crew when he is at his
best. He also gives Duke one thing they are really missing, and that is a
second disruptive force in the backcourt. Sean Dockery is also a superb
defender, and between the two of them, Duke can throw a brilliant pair of
defenders at any backcourt they'll come across.

We'll never know, but we're guessing Nelson could have cut into Hamilton's
production. And of course he takes some pressure off of Dockery, who has
had to be the main backcourt defender for most of the season. With
Dockery, Nelson, and Paulus, Duke has a lot of mix-and-match options, and that
will make this team that much tougher to deal with.

We also heard this, from one of the members of Clemson's radio team, on the
Duke network: he explained that a big part of the reason Clemson lost to Elon
was because they had just lost James Mays, who played at the front of their
press. They didn't adjust well to his absence, and Elon broke the press
easily and got lots of chippies. Makes sense. And we would only add
that they seem to have adjusted now, if the last two games are any indication.

Things can go wrong from here of course, but our guess is that Clemson is not
too far from entering into the best basketball era they have ever seen.
That's what happens when you get really good athletes and a really good coach.