Duke faced a serious challenge from Clemson, a team with a powerful inside game and capable of playing with anyone in the country. But Duke countered their inside power by forcing turnovers and scored 37 points on 21 takeaways, and that pretty much ended any thoughts the Tigers might have had of avenging last year's loss in Cameron.
This is the third time Duke has faced a significantly bigger team, and so far they've beaten Wisconsin and Clemson, and almost beat Pitt (and really should have won that game).
Clemson really is a solid team, though. It just worked out that Duke was able to disrupt their passes, and unfortunately for Clemson, some of their passes were just dumb, and they paid the price. But this is an intriguing team.
James Mays, who is playing through multiple injuries, is showing a different sort of leadership and it's hard not to be impressed with his heart. Not many people could do what he's doing.
And sophomore Trevor Booker is on the verge of becoming a tremendous player. Clemson's freshman guards, Demontez Stitt and Terence Oglesby, are both going to be really good. This is a program which is still improving (and dont' forget that the Tigers are also getting another Booker, as Trevor's little brother is committed to Clemson already).
But the reality in basketball is that all things being equal, speed usually trumps muscle and size, and that was definitely the case here.
Clemson could turn to Booker, and to K.C. Rivers, and Stitt, but Duke just kept running past the Tigers. Mays had five turnovers, Stitt had four, and Cliff Hammonds and David Potter had three each. Clemson actually shot pretty well, hitting 53.3%, but the turnovers took away 21 shot attempts.
In a depressingly familiar theme, the Tigers only managed 43.5% from the line, which is just bizarre. It's one of the elemental skills of basketball. How can they be so consistently bad at it?
Duke put five players in double figures, but the key player was DeMarcus Nelson. Not only did he score 24 on 10-13 from the floor, but he spent a lot of time guarding Stitt. What's nice about his season is that not only has he become a highly effective captain, but he's still improving. That's partly a result of being healthy for an extended period, but it's also partly just long, hard hours in the gym. His defense has been good for a long time, but his ballhandling has improved, as have his decisions. He's really becoming a superb player and is pushing for all-ACC.
Kyle Singler also had an excellent game. Of late, his three point shooting has become much more consistent, and he hit three of those. Earlier, like Grant Hill before him, he seemed somewhat hesitant to take the shot. That's over.
He also had a huge block when Clemson was making a move which swung momentum back to the Devils. Singler ended up with 17 points, four boards, and a block.
Gerald Henderson had sixteen points and one of the most spectacular missed dunks you'll see anytime soon. Henderson helped bust the press and he made some smart passes as well. He's really coming on.
Greg Paulus plays like Jason Williams in one key respect: he can periodically do something not to bright - a wobbly pass, letting someone by on defense, what have you - but when the game is on the line, the guy just kicks it up a couple of notches. Against FSU, there was that steal and layup. There was one late here, too, though it wasn't as critical. But the point is, Paulus clearly enjoys winning time, and he understands how to conduct himself at that point in the game.
Dave McClure also started but only played eight minutes. Taylor King got only three minutes off the bench, but one of the great moments on the broadcast was seeing how into it he was when Duke was closing Clemson out.
Nolan Smith had a very solid game, possibly his best at Duke so far. He went 6-9 from the floor, had 13 points, and four assists. He also put a lot of pressure on Clemson defensively.
And Jon Scheyer also had what we're used to seeing from him now - a tremendous supporting role off the bench. He didn't shoot especially well (3-8), but ended up with 12 points.
So what to make of this win? Well, coming on the heels of the Florida State win, may we suggest: confidence. This team has had a few shaky moments this season, but they're beginning to understand what they are and what they are not. There are a lot of challenges coming up, and they'll require confidence. But right now, Duke is playing about as well as anyone.