Mike Krzyzewski’s final time coaching inside Littlejohn Coliseum started warm and fuzzy.
Just before the rematch between Clemson and No. 7 Duke tipped off, Clemson recognized the Blue Devils’ Hall of Fame coach, who’s retiring at season’s end, by announcing a donation to his daughter’s non-profit organization benefiting students underrepresented in higher education. But the pleasantries didn’t last long in what turned into a frustrating night for a Clemson team that’s reeling.
Two weeks earlier, the Tigers (12-12, 4-9 ACC) gave Krzyzewski’s final Duke team all it wanted in a two-point loss inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. But things didn’t go nearly as well this time around for Clemson, which has started its three-game homestand 0-2 after an 82-64 loss Thursday.
“I thought (Duke) played very well,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “They had great energy and intensity. They executed. Clearly they were better tonight.”
The Tigers, who’ve dropped seven of their last nine games, got 17 points from PJ Hall and 13 apiece from Chase Hunter and Naz Bohannon, but Clemson shot just 38.6% from the floor without injured forward Hunter Tyson (broken clavicle) and leading rebounder David Collins, who missed the second half after being ejected for a flagrant foul. Duke didn’t have as much trouble finding buckets, particularly on the interior.
“We’re short right now,” Brownell said. “We’ve got Hunter hurt and you lose David, and then you’re going against that kind of talent and execution — they’re playing at a high level, playing with confidence and getting he ball where they want it — physically you wear down a little bit. I thought we had a couple of guys that looked tired.”
Freshman point guard Trevor Keels paced Duke with 25 points while 7-footer Mark Williams (16 points on 8 of 8 shooting) and likely NBA lottery pick Paolo Banchero (15) combined for 31 points for the Blue Devils, who shot nearly 58% from the field and outscored Clemson 34-26 in the paint to complement their nine 3-pointers. Duke, which led by as many as 22 points, also dominated the glass with a plus-9 rebounding advantage (42-33).
Behind 18 combined first-half points from Williams and Banchero, Duke held a 38-27 advantage at the break. The Blue Devils led by as many as 13 in the opening 20 minutes after answering a 8-0 run by Clemson with a 9-0 spurt of its own after Hall missed a dunk.
AJ Griffin immediately knocked down a transition 3-pointer to give Duke a 27-14 lead with 5:32 left in the first half. Clemson answered with the next six points, but the Tigers’ frustration boiled over a couple of minutes later when Wendell Moore Jr. picked Collins’ pocket and raced to the other end for a dunk. Moore fell hard to the floor at the end of the play after Collins undercut Duke’s junior guard, which drew the ire of the Blue Devils’ players and coaches.
“He was parallel to the ground 8 feet up in the air,” Krzyzewski said. “That was one of the most dangerous plays I’ve ever seen.
“I’m not knocking Collins. Don’t get me wrong on that. But I’ve never seen a player (in the air) like that. It was scary.”
Brownell walked Collins over to Duke’s bench to apologize to Krzyzewski, who shared a hug with Collins. But Collins was called for a flagrant 2 foul, which came with an automatic ejection.
Clemson cut the deficit to five early in the second half on a 3 from Al-Amir Dawes, but Duke answered with back-to-back buckets. The Blue Devils later used a 16-4 run over a span of 6 minutes and change to open up a 65-46 lead.
“I thought we wore down,” Brownell said. “They just physically overpowered us at times, and we didn’t have a good night shooting the ball. Our guards, we made 3s when we fought them at their place, but here we didn’t make shots. Then that put more pressure on us, and they just executed very well down the stretch.”
A boisterous “Let’s go, Duke” chant broke out among the large contingent of Duke fans in attendance soon thereafter. And the Tigers were well on their way to a third straight loss since a home win over Florida State on Feb. 2.
Things won’t get any easier Saturday when Clemson closes out its homestand against Notre Dame, which is tied with Duke atop the ACC standings.
“We’ve got to get a win Saturday,” Hall said. “That’s all you can do.”
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