Despite shooting just 36% from the floor, 29% from three point land, and just 57% from the free throw line, Duke managed to open the conference season with a win. True it was against a team that many predict will be at or near the bottom of the league standings, but a win is a win, especially this season in the ACC.
While Clemson is still learning to be a basketball team, they are certainly not short on athleticism as several members of their roster are long and very quick off the floor. Given the Tigers' height advantage it would seem logical that Clemson would establish their advantage inside. However, the Duke defense once again came to play, giving up just 54 points. It was the fifth time in nine games that the Devils had held an opponent under 55 points. The high intensity on the ball pressure and help side rotation ended up holding the Tigers to 32% shooting on the night and 0-6 from the perimeter as nearly every jump shot attempt had a Duke hand in the face.
Aside from the defense playing well, the Blue Devils managed to help Shelden Williams on the boards, out-rebounding Clemson 43-42 thanks to the entire team crashing the boards led by freshman DeMarcus Nelson's nine rebound effort from his wing position.
With the Blue Devils staggering and seemingly on the brink of disaster, junior wing Lee Melchionni stepped up and knocked down a pair of huge three pointers and came up with a nice block to turn the tide in the first half. Sure he's not the kind of player Duke can expect to play at a high level for an entire game, but his high level of energy and timely playmaking in spot duty was the difference on Sunday.
What Went Wrong
The entire offense was just out of sync on Sunday night. With Clemson quickly double teaming Shelden Williams as soon as he received the ball, Duke should have been able to work it around and find open shots on the perimeter. They didn't. Instead the Blue Devils seemed almost reluctant to pass the ball, and Clemson recorded a couple of blocks early, and never gave the Devils an open look.
Without the typical ball movement, it seemed as though Duke was getting sucked into one on one battles, which translated into ill advised shots and easy rebounds for Clemson. Several times Blue Devils would put their heads down and drive into the lane without what seemed to be a clear plan, resulting in either a turnover or a wild shot, with little chance of success.
While the defense itself was terrific, the ability to convert turnovers into points was simple not there, which hurt Duke's ability to make runs and put the game out of reach. And while Clemson was turning it over quite a bit, Duke matched them by committing 21 turnovers of their own.
With the perimeter shots not falling and the backcourt just not hitting, Duke still didn't look to establish Shelden Williams inside as they have in previous weeks. The few times they did look to the big man, Williams wasn't his typical strong self inside, preferring to fade back on his shots instead of attacking the rim.
One of the biggest problems to surface was the injury to Reggie Love, who broke his foot and will be out of action for a number of weeks, leaving just Shelden Williams as Duke's only capable interior threat on both ends of the floor. Thankfully, Shavlik Randolph could be back in time for the real ACC schedule to kick in, but until then it will be crucial that Williams play a ton of minutes.
Player of the Game
While Redick's 20 point second half was terrific, it was what many have come to expect from the ACC's leading scorer. What wasn't expected was the big play of Melchionni, who came up with a number of critical plays to keep his team within striking distance. For that effort, he's our TDD player of the game.
The complete injury report (available on our premium forum) leaves Duke resembling the walking wounded with Princeton coming to town on Wednesday night. With a style of play that will force Duke to execute in the half court, and a sore bunch of Devils, there could be another close call in Cameron on Wednesday.
The key will be Duke's ability to establish Williams and return to form on the offensive end by making the extra passes for open looks from the perimeter. If Duke can do that, then the 65th anniversary game in Cameron will be a success.