It might not have been a pretty win, but it was pretty enough: Duke won on the road at Clemson Sunday, 73-66, and remains the sole unbeaten team in the ACC.
Not that it was easy.
Clemson came out with more fire to start the game than did Duke and shot out to a 10-2 lead. After Tanner Smith made an undefended layup, Coach K pulled the starters and put in five reserves.
When the starters came back in, they began to play better. Quinn Cook nailed a three, Ryan Kelly hit a jumper, Cook hit another, then Kelly got to the line. At 12-18, Duke was back in the game.
They took the lead at 21-20 on a Mason Plumlee three point play and Clemson never got it back again.
And then Clemson had to deal with one of the great streak shooters of recent ACC history, Andre Dawkins.
Dawkins, who got a dunk at the 6:30 mark, made two threes and hit a pair of free throws to score 10 points in the last six and a half minutes of the first half.
He didn't ease off the gas in the second half either: he hit three threes, a dunk (unfortunately followed by a technical for hanging on the rim) and three free throws down the stretch for a total of 24 points.
Not surprisingly, Clemson's defense gave Duke some trouble: Ryan Kelly was just 3-8, Austin Rivers just 2-9 and Seth Curry just 2-7,which is surprising to see.
Why? Because Curry's presence on the floor was so solid.Â For large parts of the game, despite not shooting well, he seemed like a dominant player. This was not a 2-9 type performance, not really.
And good news for Rivers too: while the dense defenses of Virginia and Clemson have made his life miserable offensively, here's the good news: he adapted.Â Earlier in his freshman year he would have charged the lane like a bull charging at a matador's flag.Â He has learned discretion and has dramatically improved at picking his spots.
He took a couple of spills, courtesy of Clemson's Big Ten-ish D, which features a lot of spills and tumbles.
Hilariously, at one point in the second half, he got his licks in too, completely restraining a Clemson player near the basket.Â For whatever reason, this escaped the attention of the officials, but you can see it if you go back and look.
Duke did a good job of catching the Tigers by the tail in general: although Andre Young finisshed with 12, most of those came late and he was just 4-14.
After his early layup, Smith finished 4-12 for 12 points.Â Devin Booker was 6-14 although with 13 boards and Milton Jennings, in the best game we've witnessed him play, was 7-13 for 16 points.
It wasn't just the shooting, but that several of the shots were really smart.
Duke ultimately was able to counter intelligently with Dawkins of course, then 10 from Cook, nine from Curry, eight from Ryan Kelly and 12 from Mason Plumlee.
And now, the Plumlee Daily Double: 18 points and 21 rebounds.
Duke again had a spot of bother with game management at the end: in the last 2 1/2 minutes, Curry had a turnover, Rivers rushed a three, Curry missed another three and Dawkins missed a free throw which would have put Duke up by six, which would have meant a best-case scenario of two threes in 20 seconds, assuming that Duke opted not to foul had Clemson hit the first one.
Still, it was a case of bending, not breaking, and there was a lot to be pleased about: recovering from a weak start, Dawkins' eruption, Curry's very smart play, a solid performance by the big men and Mason Plumlee shooting 4-4 from the line.
Winning close ACC games is a great thing for a team searching for an identity.Â Duke has issues to work through, but despite that, they're the only undefeated ACC team left.Â Given the wackiness of the ACC this year, that's saying a lot.