Did you ever see the amazing playoff match between Larry Bird's Celtics and Dominique Wilkins' Hawks? After one astonishing duel between the superstars, Celtic Kevin McHale mused that one day after he retired, he'd look back to games like this and marvel. Well, so will Duke fans. From Laettner's two legendary game winners to Jeff Capel's amazing near half-court shot to keep the Carolina game alive to Sean Dockery's miracle last season, Duke fans have a lifetime of memories. Now we can add Scheyer-to-McClure to the list as well.Because the end of the game was so dramatic, people, including us, will start at the end. And the end was spectacular: Clemson rushed back from a 66-61 deficit to tie the game on a clutch three pointer after a miscommunication between Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus. That was when Jon Scheyer took the ball and headed down court to deliver a brilliant pass to a streaking Dave McClure for the buzzer-beating winner.
But the rest of the game was pretty damn good too.
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This was a tremendously passionate game between two teams who just wouldn't quit. Duke managed to get - and keep - a lead from the end of the first half to near the end of the second half, but Clemson kept pushing back. Duke outrebounded Clemson badly; the Tigers took the ball away from Duke and scored 17 points off of Duke's 16 turnovers, including the clutch three at the end by Vernon Hamilton, who had - check this out - five points and a steal in the last five seconds. That's brilliant.
But the rebounding margin Duke built (40-24), the turnover advantage Clemson had (16-12 and 17 points to 12), none of this really summed up the game as well as a single word: passion.
Both teams played with immense passion. The old Clemson, the one which showed up and usually went through the motions, was nowhere to be found. This bunch took their game to an incredibly high level. They took after Duke on defense. They penetrated on offense. They even hit free throws - at almost double their normal rate for conference games.
In short, while we know Clemson fans are disappointed to have lost a classic ACC game, one which will be talked about for a long while, we're also sure they're proud of their team, and we hope they realize just how well they played. They were simply wonderful.
Fortunately for Duke fans, so were the Devils, as a very young team grew up a lot.
Earlier in the season, you didn't really see anyone who seemed to relish a physical game. Suddenly, and dramatically, that's changed. Duke played hardball with Clemson and didn't back down to anyone. Josh McRoberts and DeMarcus Nelson almost outrebounded the Tigers by themselves, and everyone seemed to relish the chance to play a fast yet physical game.
Clemson's press forced some turnovers, but it didn't create the sort of chaos which pressing teams thrive on. What it did do was to force Duke to move the ball upcourt faster, but generally speaking, they handled it well, as Duke teams have done historically against pressing teams like Iowa under Tom Davis. Duke didn't shoot particularly well - Scheyer was only 20% from the floor, and Duke only shot 414.% - but they played well enough to maintain a reasonable lead until the end.
And Duke's defense was just as rugged as Clemson's, more so for much of the game. Duke held Clemson to 45.5% and denied them a lot of second attempts - Clemson only had six offensive rebounds; Duke had 17. Over the years, Duke has done a lot of things well, but they're not typically a powerful rebounding team. Duke has made up a lot of ground on turnovers, which really should count as rebounds denied: if you get 20 turnovers a game, that's 20 rebounds (or shot attempts, more precisely) which never occurred. Clemson has usually won the rebounding war, or at least that's how we remember it.
For Duke, turnovers and poor shooting aside, they may point back to this game and say this was where they first learned at what level you have to play to seriously compete for championships.
It's also worth noting that in the last 48 seconds, all of Duke's points were by freshmen (four free throws by Scheyer and Henderson), or off a pass by a freshman (Scheyer's pass to McClure of course).
Greg Paulus had a couple of lapses, but his play is still much improved over earlier in the season. And so is Josh McRoberts.
McRoberts' court vision is, at times, simply dazzling. But now he's getting a lot more serious about playing strong in the post, and that's a very exciting development. Against Clemson, on several occasions, he just went up with it. He either got fouled or blocked, but he didn't back down from anyone.
DeMarcus Nelson is a quiet kid on the floor, and sometimes it's easy to overlook him, but all the guy does is play his butt off. In this game, he had 13 points and eight boards. He's also the guy Duke picks to shut down a dangerous scorer.
The game will be about the last few seconds, as we said at the beginning, and we're sure there's going to be some controversy about clock management. We haven't really gone back to look at the play, but we know there will be some discussion of it.
That aside, no one helped Jon Scheyer to book downcourt, and no one helped Dave McClure to outrun his defender, catch the ball, and hit a tough shot.
What Clemson fans should take out of this game is this: in three recent ACC games, their team has shown it knows how to go for the jugular. They know they can win, and they believe they should. This is a great sign for a tournament-bound team, and for other teams who don't understand this team has heart, passion, and courage, well, they're going to pay. Just like Duke nearly did.