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Duke 70, Clemson 59: Is There Such a Thing as a Sobering Win?

Short answer? Yes.

To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a win is a win is a win.

To paraphrase her again, however, a lack of chapionship-caliber play is a lack of chapionship-caliber play is a lack of chapionship-caliber play.

Duke won on Wednesday, but the team is playing its worst basketball of the season at exactly the wrong time.

I had the fortune to sit several rows behind the bench tonight, which gave me a birds eye ( and ear) view of not only the on-the-court action, but the timeouts as well, which were equally as entertaining (actually more so, to be honest) as the game.

The Devils did not come out of the gates slowly on offense for a change as Nolan and Kyle ( apropos for Senior Night) dropped in 11 of the teams’ first 13 points over the first seven minutes to help Duke to a 13-8 lead. That being said, Coach K was, um, for lack of a better word, apoplectic at the teams’ overall approach and attitude. After excoriating Mason and Ryan for a lack of effort during a called timeout at the 16:22 mark, he went ballistic during the ensuing TV timeout, smashed a chair into the floor and proceeded to tell the team that they were playing “like a bunch of {non-aggressive animals of a feline nature}. The, er, pep talk, didn’t seem to stick, however, as Duke proceeded to turn the ball over ( a problem they had for the entire game) on 3 of their next 8 posessions, enabling Clemson to hang right with the Devils at 15-13 at the second TV timeout. The following 5 minutes was basically a missed-shot parade for both teams, and Duke held a slim 22-20 advantage at the 7:55 mark. Finally, Duke appeared to right the ship, going on a 9-0 run forcing Clemson to call a timeout. The ship foundered massively, though, as Clemson responded with a 12-0 run, using offensive rebounding ( a problem for Duke all night) and Duke’s inability to stay in front of Clemson’s perimeter players ( a problem for Duke all night) to reclaim the lead at 32-31. During a called timeout in the middle of the Clemson run, Coach K again lit in to the Duke team, this time calling them out for “terrible attitude” and not playing “strong”. The half ended more or less tit-for-tat, and Duke went in to the locker room with a meager 36-34 lead, having committed 9 turnovers ( near their PER GAME average over the last 7 games) and giving up 8 offensive rebounds.

The start of the second half was an improvement in most ways, (on overall effort if not on the shooting front) and Duke worked their way back to an 8 point lead with 14 minutes to go. Once again, however, Duke gave it right back as they turned the ball over on 4 of their next 6 posessions and Clemson closed to within 2 at 50-48. The Devils then used some consistent play on the defensive end ( their first decent stretch of the evening, actually) to hold the Tigers to 3 points over a 5 minute span and though they managed to score only 9 points themselves in that time, it was enough to build a 60-50 margin. The final five minutes looked like they were going to play out as they usually do in these situations with Duke burning clock and hitting foul shots, but for the second straight game our end-of-game execution was HORRIBLE. Nolan was particularly and surprisingly bad,as his frustration, after an evening of putting up with Demontez Stitt’s extremely physical defense ( and I’m being quite generous here, as the officials were content to “let them play”), finally got the better of him. He committed a  4 turnovers (2 in the form of offensive push-off fouls) over a 3 minute span and got a pretty stern talking to from K for his troubles  during the final timeout of the game. On the Defensive end, Duke wasn’t much better, as they were victimized by 6 Clemson offensive rebounds over three posessions. Thankfully, the Tigers were unable to take advantage Duke’s miscues, using their own brand of ineptitude to put up only 4 points in the final 4 minutes, helping Duke salt things away.

Under most circumstances, committing 20 turnovers and getting your butt whupped on the offensive glass ( particularly when many of those turnovers are of the “live ball” variety), does not result in a win. The Devils uglied one out tonight largely because a) the Tigers were god-awful shooting the ball ( 30 %) and even worse from distance ( 4-19). (The defense deserves some credit here, but it must be said that it seemed like the Tigers missed A LOT of point blank shots) and b) Seth Curry came up with 18 huge points in his critical role as third scorer. I think it’s safe to say, at this point, that if he doesn’t get double digits, Duke doesn’t win.

For the second straight game Duke put on a less than impressive overall performance and for the second straight game Duke’s seniors failed to provide the type of decision making and execution necessary to close the game properly. It’s hard to understand why this is happening now, just as it’s hard to understand how our bench production seems to be getting worse as the year progresses. It’s a dischordant feeling to lack confidence in a 27-3 team, but there just isn’t any way around it. If we roll in to the Dean Dump on Saturday with the type of effort we displayed against Clemson, we are in for a wholehearted “hiding” at the hands of the Heels.

Hell.

Game Notes

- The bench scored zero points. zero. They logged 31 minutes. 31. ( sigh)

- Kyle and Nolan combined for 12 of Duke’s 20 turnovers. Not what you want from your senior leaders.

- Mason had his second consecutive “off” game on the boards, pulling down only seven,