Clemson, SC – The No. 11 Clemson Tigers (20-6, 9-5) fell at home to the No. 12 Duke Blue Devils (22-5, 10-4) by a score of 66-57. Clemson has now lost consecutive games for the first time this season and suffered their first home loss. With their win today, Duke has control of their own destiny to grab the two seed in the ACC tournament. Both teams were without key starters as Duke’s Marvin Bagley missed his third consecutive game while the Tigers were without their starting point guard, Shelton Mitchell. Duke continued to roll without Bagley, now with three wins in his absence. Mitchell is in concussion protocol after sustaining as scary blow to the head in their previous game at Florida State on Wednesday. The Tigers depth has already been tested this season with leading scorer and senior leader, Donte Grantham out for the season with a torn ACL.
This game was closely contested throughout with Duke holding a one-point lead at the half and maintaining a small lead most of the second half. Duke is now solely playing zone defense after they have struggled to man up earlier in the season. The extended 2-3 defense that Duke runs in combination with their full-court 1-2-2 pressure is hard to score on. They like to get in their full court pressure on made baskets to try and shorten the shot clock for the opposing team. With a shortened shot clock, the zone is even tougher to beat because there is less time to swing the ball and attack the gaps. The Tigers have struggled recently turning the ball over and without their best ball handler and decision maker, those struggles continued. The zone defense also helped to slow down the hot three-point shooting of the Tigers, as they were 5-of-20 from three. The Tigers were still able to tie the game with two minutes to go but were then outscored 9-0 down the stretch, including fouling a three point shot attempt and Wendell Carter getting a tough and-1 in the paint.
As a result of playing zone defense, Duke limited the Tigers ability to get in the paint and get to the line. The Tigers also settled for too many jump shots while they could’ve gotten in the paint. Duke was 22-of-26 from the line while the Tigers were only 10-of-12. There wasn’t a large disparity on the number of fouls, just in the number of attempts.
Grayson Allen was the leading scorer for Duke with 19 points, but only scored two of those points in the second half. The Clemson defense adjusted really well at halftime by being more physical with him when running through off ball screens and running off the three point line. In the second half, while Allen was struggling to score, the freshman for Duke stepped up. Gary Trent Jr, Trevon Duval, and Carter scored a combined 26 points in the half to lead the Blue Devils offensively. Carter was very impressive, including a tough finish in the post late in the game to put Duke up six with a minute to go.
The Tigers had their depth tested today and even though they lost, they still competed with one of the best teams in the country. The game came down to a few possessions and the Tigers just came up a little short. Marcquise Reed and Gabe DeVoe had to step up in the absence of Mitchell to control the offense. Taking over the ball-handling duties is tough for these guys who have played the whole season as score-first players. Both of them are more than capable of leading the offense, but against a zone defense that you don’t see very much, proved to be too much for them to overcome. They both did a good job of getting other players involved, but could not get in a good rhythm themselves (combined 4-of-24 FG). Elijah Thomas had a great game inside filling the stat sheet with 13 points, 15 rebounds, three assists and three blocks. He was very active tonight, stepping up in a big way defensively as well, playing great help defense and limiting Duke’s second chance opportunities.
The Tigers will look to get back in the winning column at Virginia Tech on Wednesday. Duke’s next game will also be on Wednesday as they play host to Louisville.
This article was written by Cody Deas, a correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball. You can follow us on Facebook, or on twitter. We are looking for those interested in our basketball scout certification program. For information contact us and forward your resume.