A second half scoring surge by Blue Devils sharpshooter J.J. Redick and continued shooting woes by Clemson spoiled any upset bid as sixth-ranked Duke pulled out a tight 62-54 victory Sunday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both teams.
After being held to four points in the first half, it was a matter of time before Redick found his stroke as he went on to score 20 of his game-high 24 points in the second half.
"It seems like he never fails," said Clemson forward Sharrod Ford. "He always hits that big three that puts them up."
Clemson falls to 9-4 overall and 0-1 in the ACC, while the Blue Devils improve to 9-0, 1-0 ACC.
Even though it was a close game, there were no moral victories for the Tigers on this night.
"The most important thing is that they're a disappointed bunch in the locker room," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. "Hopefully that (hurt) will linger a little while in them. I hope it will then turn into resolve.
"These kids expect to come in and win. They're naive enough to think they can come in here and win, which is great."
What makes it so painful for Clemson is the fact that this was a game it most certainly could have won. The Tigers turned in one of their best defensive efforts of the season, holding Duke to 36.7 percent shooting from the field and forcing it to commit 21 turnovers.
Also, the Blue Devils were without forwards Shavlik Randolph (mononucleosis) and Reggie Love, who broke his foot in the first half and was lost for the game.
"We were able to hold Duke to 62 points and we feel pretty good about that," Tigers center Akin Akingbala said. "We're very disappointed. We felt this was a winnable game for us."
It's not too often Clemson can honestly say that.
The problem was that the Tigers found the shooting tough as well as they made just 32.8 percent overall and were 0-for-6 from 3-point range. They also committed 23 turnovers.
"Our defense was pretty good, but we couldn't score," Purnell said. "But obviously Duke had something to do with that with their pressure."
That famed pressure defense by the Blue Devils forced Clemson guard Vernon Hamilton into one of his worst nights at as a Tiger. The sophomore was just 2-of-11 from the field and he committed seven turnovers.
Ultimately what did Clemson in were too many missed shots from close range. If the Tigers would have made just half of the chippies they missed, the outcome might have been different.
The Tigers held actually held a six-point lead at 33-27 with 15:04 left to play in the game, but that' when Redick got hot. To Clemson's credit, it held its own until the Blue Devils put together a little run to go up 53-43 with 5:46 remaining.
Clemson cut the lead to six and had a chance to make it even less, but a turnover led to a Blue Devils dunk and the game was essentially over.
The Tigers were led by Sharrod Ford, who scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds. However, he also had four turnovers.
Depending on your point of view, Clemson was either fortunate or unlucky to be trailing 24-19 at halftime.
The Tigers could be considered fortunate because they turned it over 16 times in the opening half. Entering Sunday night, Clemson turned it over an average of 18 times per game.
Also, Clemson shot just 30.8 percent in the first half and made just eight field goals. And to be trailing by only five, many would consider fortunate.
But at the same time, the Tigers were disappointed that they let a perfect opportunity to take a lead into halftime slip away. They forced Duke into 12 turnovers and held it to 32.1 percent shooting.
Had Clemson made any shots whatsoever, it would have been ahead.
"We learned that we can play with anybody in this league," said Tigers guard Cliff Hammonds. "We almost beat Duke and we didn't play very well. If we can play better offense, we're going to be pretty good."
Clemson doesn't play again until Saturday when it takes on Wake Forest at 4 p.m. in Littlejohn Coliseum.
|Officials:||Dwayne Gladden, Jamie Luckie, Ted Valentine|