Win over Clemson raises more questions

The Blue Devils survived a scare from the Tigers thanks to defensive questions that need answers found before Duke plays NC State on Saturday.

The questions being asked at the end missed the point.

Did Clemson foul Rodney Hood on his last-second desperation drive to the hoop? Did Duke foul Rod Hall on his corresponding drive?

Debate those all you want. The real question is this: How in the heck did Duke find itself in that sticky situation to begin with?

After Quinn Cook drilled a 3-pointer with 12:23 remaining, the Blue Devils held a 47-34 lead. Normally that sort of lead against the offensively challenged Tigers is pretty safe.

But then Clemson got a free throw on its next possession. And a short jumper on the one after that. Then came a 3-pointer by K.J. McDaniels.

It snowballed from there. The Tigers scored, scored and then … scored some more. After Cook's basket, the Tigers came away with points on 14 of their next 16 baskets.

Part of the credit for Clemson's resurgence certainly lies with Brad Brownell's team.

"We'll have 10 to 12 possessions where we look really good," Brownell said. "When we do, that's when we make our runs."

Mike Krzyzewski was quick to point to the Tigers' toughness as one of the reasons for the close game.

"The personality and the heart of the Clemson's team probably rose to its highest at that time, because they're fighting for their lives," he said.

True, but that will be the case against Duke's next ACC Tournament opponent, N.C. State. And everyone's season life is on the line once the NCAA Tournament starts next week. When that happens, will the Blue Devils be able to muster a defense that matches the opposing team's intensity desire?

"We just could not get a stop," Krzyzewski said. "We were tired, but they were tired too."

It's not a new conundrum for the Blue Devils. They went through similar defensive droughts during their upset losses at Notre Dame and Clemson back in January. Duke's made defensive strides since then, but went through a disturbing relapse late on Friday night. The Tigers scored off drives, in transition, down low and on perimeter jumpers. They made 14 of 21 shots in the second half (66.7 percent) including 11 of their final 15 attempts.

In other words, Clemson got pretty much whatever it wanted on offense in the final 12 minutes.

Despite those issues, Krzyzewski seemed upbeat during his post-game press conference. He gushed about Clemson's gritty play and seemed pleased that his team was able to gut out the win.

"To me it was a great game," he said. "You have two teams fighting to the end, that's not going to be pretty."

The Duke coach was also very pleased at Hood's aggressive move on the Blue Devils' final possession. After Hall's layup put Clemson up 62-61 with nine seconds remaining, Hood grabbed the inbounds pass and raced up the floor, drawing a foul from K.J. McDaniels on the way to the basket. With 3.8 seconds remaining, Hood calmly sank the two free throws that put Duke ahead for good.

Krzyzewski pointed out that, in a similar situation at Notre Dame, Hood had been tentative and it had cost the Blue Devils dearly.

"He didn't go and attack and we lost the game," Krzyzewski said. "Déjà vu."

The Blue Devils almost experienced insta-déjà vu on the game's final possession as Hall attempted to replicate Hood's length-of-the-floor rush from moments before. But where Hood drew a foul, Hall had the ball poked away at the last moment by Tyler Thornton.

So at the very end, Duke finally rediscovered its defense. It'll need to do that much sooner in its upcoming games, or the Blue Devils' March may come to an abrupt and disappointing end.

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