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Sumner: Duke Pounds Past Tigers

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It's not often you get to see a team shoot 29 % in the first half and go to the locker room with a comfortable lead.

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It was that kind of night in Cameron. Duke led Clemson 25-10 at the half, withstood a Clemson surge midway through the second-half before pulling away for a 68-40 victory, running their record to 15-0, 2-0 in the ACC. Clemson dropped to 8-6, 0-2.

The Blue Devils played the second half without Ryan Kelly, who "tweaked" his right foot late in the first half. Kelly actually ended the half outscoring Clemson 12-10. Mike Krzyzewski said that Kelly would be evaluated tomorrow. He did use the word "precautionary," which might mean something. Or not.

Clemson did what they had to do to have a chance, a slow tempo on offense and a physical, suffocating defense. The teams began the game as if they were having a rebounding drill. Duke missed two free throws and nine field goals before getting on the board with a Mason Plumlee foul shot. That took just over five minutes.

By that point, they were behind by all of two points.

Clemson also led 4-3 and 6-5 before going a whopping 7:44 before getting to eight points. Kelly, Quinn Cook and Kelly hit 3-pointers, putting Duke up 18-6.

Seth Curry called the beginning of the game "weird. They try to slow it down. They're real aggressive defensively but we did get some good shots and just missed them. For the most part, we contested them. They play a weird kind of game, try to mix it up and make it a slow game, a physical game."

The lead never got under single digits again.

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How do you hold a team to 3-25 shooting in a half? "We tried to limit them to one shot," Tyler Thornton says. "We got a lot of defensive rebounds and that played a big role." Clemson grabbed only four offensive rebounds in the first half, not easy to do for a team that shoots 3-25.

Cook said the game plan was to contest everything and that certainly worked. The visitors made a single 3-pointer for the game and mustered only three assists, against 13 turnovers.

Even without Kelly, Duke pushed the lead to 20 points early in the second half, at 34-14. But Clemson began bothering Duke with a full-court press, forcing four turnovers in less than a minute.

"It kind of knocked us back a bit and that's on us, the players," Thornton says. "But we adjusted and were fine after that. We've handled the press fairly well this year. We've played a lot of teams that press. I think we'll be fine. We need to make sure we don't lose our aggressiveness."

"I was surprised we didn't handle it well," Plumlee adds. "We expected it. We have to play through passes and play strong."

It should be noted that Kelly usually makes the in-bounds pass against pressure.

An 8-0 Clemson surge made it 34-22. But Thornton ended the threat with his only points of the night, a 3-pointer that made full use of the iron. This started an 8-2 run that restored Duke's working margin.

Clemson tried to fight back but Brad Brownell conceded that his team just didn't have the firepower. "Duke is hard to play against. Some of it is youth. We got to the basket but didn't finish. Some of our guys need better skill development. Duke doesn't let you get into a rhythm. We got off to a slow start and pressed a bit."

It was an unconventional offensive night for Duke, especially after Kelly sat down. Plumlee and Clemson's Devin Booker battled each other to a statistical standstill, which Krzyzewski said was what Duke needed, inasmuch as Booker is Clemson's best player. Seth Curry scored all eight of his points in the second half.

But Clemson had no answer for Cook's shooting. Yes, the same Quinn Cook who shot an o-fer last Saturday against Wake Forest. Cook buried rainbow jumpers, scored off steals and got inside with ease. He hit 12 of 16 from the field, 3 of 5 from beyond the arc on the way to a 27-point barrage. His previous career high was 17 against Minnesota earlier this season.

Cook said his coaches and teammates told him to keep shooting and that he fed off their confidence. "To have a coach who believes in you, that's the best thing. I was itching to get back on the court and see the ball go in. It was fun for me to hit shots."

"He showed maturity," Krzyzewski said. "Just played his game, coming off an 0 for 11. I really loved that."

Duke did get some production from the deeper portions of its bench. Alex Murphy converted an offensive rebound in the first half, while Amile Jefferson scored five points, including a three-point play off a turnover that made the score 57-36.

Plumlee called this "a pleasant surprise. We expected them to play well, but you never know."

Krzyzewski summed up the night. "We played really good defense. That's the story of the game."


Seth Curry's eight points give him 1,006 at Duke.

Mason Plumlee was held to eight points, his lowest total of the season. But he grabbed 13 rebounds and added five assists.

Cook added five assists, five rebounds, four steals, with only a single turnover, to go with his 27 points.

Rasheed Sulaimon had seven rebounds but only two points. Mike Krzyzewski said Sulaimon needs to see the ball go in. "He's a young player and they're more fragile. I think a younger player sees a miss as a mistake. But it's just a miss."

Clemson is now 4-57 at Duke.