Nothing comes easy for this Duke team.
Thirty-nine hours after finishing off North Carolina, Duke coughed up a 14-point second-half lead to a fresh, deep and tough Clemson team—a team that Mike Krzyzewski called “desperate.” But Duke made enough plays downs the stretch to pull off a pulsating 64-62 win, Duke’s fifth straight.
Duke is now 8-4 in the ACC, 20-5 overall.
The hard-luck Tigers fell to 3-9, 13-11, six of those losses by one or two possessions.
Mike Krzyzewski called it Duke’s best win of the season.
A two-point home win against a second-division team?
“You’re a human being,” Krzyzewski maintained. “Sometimes in order to win, you can’t be normal. You have to fight human nature. It’s not about attitude or being ready to play. Our kids are ready to play. It’s just how much do you have in the tank. Most of the time it’s mental. That’s the toughest tired.”
Krzyzewski called timeout 68 seconds into the game, with Duke down 4-0 to refocus his team.
The Blue Devils dominated the rest of the half, hitting seven 3-pointers and holding the visitors to 5-28 (17.9 percent) shooting from the field.
Clemson stayed in the game largely because 42 percent foul shooter Elijah Thomas knocked down 5-6 from the line.
Still, it was 29-18, a lead that looked like a chasm against a team that seemed offensively challenged in the opening stanza.
The chasm got bigger when Luke Kennard hit a 3 to put Duke up 36-22 only a couple of minutes into the second half.
Then the wheels started to come off. Shelton Mitchell hit Clemson’s first 3 and then the Tigers started getting inside off the dribble. Duke’s lead shrunk and shrunk some more until it didn’t exist, a Marcquise Reed layup putting Clemson up 45-44, a 23-8 run.
“Really good teams are going to make runs,” Amile Jefferson said. “And that’s what they are, a really good team. We didn’t expect them to roll over when we jumped out on them. We knew it was going to be a dogfight. We were poised when they came back. We were poised when they took the lead. We were poised in the second half enough to win the game and build character.”
Duke went almost exclusively to Kennard in the second half. Krzyzewski said that Grayson Allen was playing tired and he liked Kennard’s matchup.
The sophomore scored 15 consecutive Duke points, including a pair of 3-pointers, as Duke again seized control. Grayson Allen hit a pair from the foul line to put Duke up 59-52 and Jayson Tatum knocked down a 3 to make it 62-55, with around two minutes left.
But by this time Duke was running on fumes. Krzyzewski limited his bench, playing only six players in the second half. He compared it to squeezing all the toothpaste from the tube.
Clemson cut it to two and got the last possession, 94-feet from the basket, with about nine seconds left. They were out of timeouts and Krzyzewski decided to sit on Duke’s two so that Clemson couldn’t set up a play.
Jefferson said the goal was simple. “Not giving up a 3 and making them take a tough 2.”
Duke forced Clemson to make some tough passes, Kennard deflected one out of bounds and Clemson never got closer than 30 feet before Mitchell fumbled it away, as time expired.
“We’ve been in this situation before and we let fatigue get the best of us,” Matt Jones said. “And for a second there we were letting that happen but we were able to fight back. We had to beat human nature.”
Jones played 38 minutes, much of it guarding Clemson star Jaron Blossomgame. Jones held Blossomgame to seven points on 3-12 shooting, 11 points below his season average,
“I knew he had a tendency to go to his right and he played to that tendency,” Jones said. “I was prepared for him.”
Kennard led everyone with 25 points. He was Duke’s only double-figure scorer. Tatum added nine points and seven rebounds.
Jefferson led Duke with nine rebounds, Allen with five assists.
Mitchell led Clemson with 23 points but the Clemson surprise was 6-9 Texas A&M transfer Thomas, with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Clemson outrebounded Duke 38-34, made five more foul shots and committed three fewer turnovers. But Duke’s 11 3-pointers against Clemson’s two proved to be the difference.
Clemson hasn’t won in Cameron since 1995.
- Kennard, No. 18 Duke hold on to beat Clemson 64-62
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- Named an early top-16 seed, Duke back to its ways of barely beating bad teams
- Coach K calls victory over Clemson Duke's 'best win'
- Kennard, No. 18 Duke hold on to beat Clemson
- Kennard Scores 25 to Carry Duke Past Clemson 64-62
- Box Score
- Kennard wills Duke men's basketball to fifth straight win against Clemson