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Clemson Pulls Off The Upset, 79-72

Big win for the Tigers. Can they build on it?

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Clemson
Jan 14, 2020; Clemson, South Carolina, USA; Clemson Tigers guard Curran Scott (10) drives to the basket defended by Duke Blue Devils guard Cassius Stanley (2) during the first half at Littlejohn Coliseum. 
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Well, Duke won’t be the first ACC team to go 20-0 in the conference, at least not this season. The suddenly-relevant Clemson Tigers shredded Duke’s much-touted defense Tuesday night in Death Valley, handing Duke a 79-72 defeat. The Tigers shot 56 percent from the field and outrebounded Duke 35-27 to key the upset.

Neither Aaamir Simms nor Tevin Mack appeared on any preseason watch lists. But Simms made 10-of-14 from the field, Mack 10-of 15 as Clemson dominated the final six minutes, outscoring Duke 20-10.

Simms finished with 25 points, Mack 22.

“We knew coming into the game that the four and the five were the positions we had to defend,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “In our last game we didn’t do a good job at the four and the five and we didn’t do a good job tonight. Simms and Mack were terrific and it’s a different offense to defend, but Simms was spectacular tonight and how he controlled the game.”

Tre Jones wasn’t so forgiving.

“I think it just comes down to us, really. It’s nothing that they did, really. They didn’t do anything special. They weren’t different than any other team [and] they weren’t better than any other teams that we’ve beat. It was on us and we didn’t come to play.”

Duke had a 22-10 run in the middle of the second half to take a tenuous 62-59 lead and it looked like the Blue Devils might be able to pull out the road win. But Duke was sloppy and unfocused much of the game, with too many turnovers (15), missed foul shots (half of 20), fouls (20) and more missed layups than you can count on both hands and those mistakes came back to haunt them in crunch time, especially a stretch when Duke missed 4-of-5 field goals, with a turnover and a missed foul shot and suddenly Clemson had a 5-point lead that they protected better than anyone thought an 8-7 team could do against Duke.

Duke dug itself a hole late in the first half. Duke led 17-16 about 8 minutes into the game. But every time Duke had a chance to get some separation, something would go wrong, a missed layup, missed foul shots, poor defensive rotations. The team that looked so poised on the road against Michigan State, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech never could find the spark it needed to seal the deal.

Clemson led 40-33 at intermission after Jordan Goldwire missed a layup right before the buzzer. The team that specializes in closing halves strong did not close this one strong and coming from behind on the road in the ACC is never a sure thing.

“We got knocked back right away” Krzyzewski summed up. “Our kids have to understand how hard it is to win and we’ve been winning but when you’re in conference people are hungry and if you win a lot sometimes you’re not as much as the other team.”


Duke had three players hit double figures, Vernon Carey with 20 points (7 rebounds), Tre Jones (17 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 turnovers) and Cassius Stanley (14 points but only 2 rebounds, with 3 turnovers and 4 fouls).

All three had flaws in their game.

So, win as a team and lose as a team and Duke certainly lost as a team, with perhaps the exception of Jack White who got a lot of Hurt’s minutes after Hurt struggled early. White gave Duke 9 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and some much-needed toughness off the bench.

He might have been Duke’s best player.

But he needed more help than he received.

Joey Baker and Wendell Moore both sat out the game with injuries. A perfect time for some next-man-ups to make an appearance. But Matthew Hurt and Alex O’Connell struggled mightily and five of the eight Duke players who saw the floor committed at least two turnovers.

“One of the reasons we’ve been good is that we had depth,” Krzyzewski said “but we have two kids out right now on the perimeter. I saw it a little bit in the last game and tonight you definitely saw that we are not as good without that depth.”

No word on either’s return.

Louisville next, Saturday night, with a share of the ACC lead at stake.


Player Of The Game vs. Clemson

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Matthew Hurt
    (10 votes)
  • 10%
    Vernon Carey
    (46 votes)
  • 3%
    Cassius Stanley
    (15 votes)
  • 1%
    Jordan Goldwire
    (7 votes)
  • 16%
    Tre Jones
    (74 votes)
  • 1%
    Javin DeLaurier
    (5 votes)
  • 62%
    Jack White
    (282 votes)
  • 3%
    Alex O’ Connell
    (14 votes)
453 votes total Vote Now