Commentary

Blue Devils cure road woes at Clemson

Originally Published: January 23, 2010
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

CLEMSON, S.C. -- At least one of the ACC's traditional powers is fixable.

[+] EnlargeKyle Singler
Brian Schneider/US PresswireKyle Singler (12 points) and Duke beat Clemson to earn a first true road win after three consecutive losses.

Three days ago, No. 6 Duke was flattened 88-74 at NC State, causing many to wonder if it was headed for the same slippery slide down Tobacco Road as rival North Carolina.

But on Saturday night, the Blue Devils did what many were beginning to think they couldn't do: They won a basketball game away from Cameron Indoor Stadium.

In fact, Duke returned to the site of one of the worst debacles in coach Mike Krzyzewski's three decades on the bench. The Blue Devils avenged a 27-point loss at Clemson last season, beating the No. 16 Tigers 60-47 in front of a packed crowd of 10,000 fans at Littlejohn Coliseum.

"I'm proud of my men," Krzyzewski said. "They played like men tonight. They had to because they played another team of men."

It's the other team on Tobacco Road that's playing with boys this season.

Even if the Blue Devils have their limitations -- such as having mediocre post players and virtually no depth -- they have to be considered the ACC's best team six games into a 16-game schedule.

Unlike North Carolina, which is playing a bunch of freshmen after losing Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green and Ty Lawson from last season's national championship team, the Blue Devils are one of the league's most experienced and hardened teams.

A year ago, Duke didn't know what to expect when it traveled to Clemson on Feb. 4. The Blue Devils were overwhelmed by the hostile crowd and the Tigers' relentless full-court press, losing 74-47 at Littlejohn. It was Krzyzewski's worst loss since the Blue Devils lost to UNLV by 30 points in the 1990 NCAA championship game.

On Saturday night, the Blue Devils were determined it wouldn't happen again. When the Tigers tried to press, Duke was deliberate in its execution, looking for the extra pass while trying to break the press. If Duke didn't have Clemson outnumbered after crossing midcourt, it slowed down the pace and ran its offense.

More than anything else, though, the Blue Devils wouldn't let the Tigers score. Clemson couldn't set up its press because it couldn't make any baskets.

"We didn't want the press to speed us up," Krzyzewski said.

Instead, the Blue Devils slowed the Tigers down. The score was tied at 23 at the half. Clemson made one 3-pointer in the first 20 minutes. Shockingly, Duke made only one foul shot (and attempted only four).

[+] EnlargeDemontez Stitt
Brian Schneider/US PresswireDemontez Stitt and Clemson couldn't match Duke in the second half of a 60-47 loss.

After the break, Duke forced Clemson to turn the ball over five times in its first nine possessions. The Blue Devils went ahead 35-28 on guard Nolan Smith's 3-pointer from the top of the key with 16:13 left to play. With Clemson struggling from the perimeter, the game was all but over from there.

"The tempo was too slow," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. "We didn't play the speed we needed to play to get the win. We defended well enough to win, but we let them control the pace. Most of our points come off of turnovers and when you only turn them over twice in the second half, you don't score a lot of points."

The Blue Devils exorcised more than a few demons. Some from three nights ago; many more from 11 months ago.

It was Duke's first road win after it lost at Wisconsin by four points, at Georgia Tech by four and at NC State by 14, though it should be noted that the Blue Devils have beaten Arizona State, Connecticut, Gonzaga and Iowa State on neutral courts.

"It gets the monkey off our backs," said Smith, who led Duke with 22 points on 8-for-13 shooting. "Outside of Cameron, this is the second-toughest place to play in the ACC. Last year was an embarrassment, so this means a lot."

After losing two games in a row, the Tigers are left wondering whether they're headed toward another late slide after another very fast start. Clemson has lost back-to-back games after falling at Georgia Tech 66-64 on Tuesday night.

With point guard Demontez Stitt hobbling with a sprained left foot, the Tigers have become a one-man show. Senior forward Trevor Booker scored 22 points on 10-for-14 shooting and grabbed six rebounds. Stitt scored 10 points and the rest of the Tigers combined for 15.

The Tigers desperately miss perimeter shooters K.C. Rivers and Terrence Oglesby. Oglesby left Clemson as a sophomore to play professionally in Europe. The Tigers were 2-for-13 on 3-pointers against Duke.

With a sold-out crowd and ESPN's GameDay crew at Clemson, this was supposed to be the Tigers' night to shine. Instead, Clemson suffered a deflating loss that left it two games back in the loss column behind Maryland and Virginia in the ACC standings.

"The crowd was great -- until we took them out of it," Booker said. "They got a little flat as soon as we got flat."

And for a change, Duke wasn't flattened on the road.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

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