ACC Basketball

No Okafor, No Problem For Blue Devils

Photo: Karl B DeBlaker, ASSOCIATED PRESS - AP

WHAT JUST HAPPENED:
The Duke Blue Devils just rolled the Clemson Tigers, 78-56. They’ve won seven straight and 10 out of 11 since losing back-to-back games to NC State and Miami. The Tigers came out flying, taking a 15-13 lead ten minutes into the contest. However, Duke went on a 7-0 run and finished out the half outscoring Clemson, 29-12, leading 42-27 at the intermission. In the second, the Blue Devils stretched that lead to 19, before the Tigers went on a 12-3 run to close the gap to ten, but that’s as close as Clemson would get, as Duke would score 10 straight, building the lead back t0 20…ball game.

FIVE NOT-SO-DEEP THOUGHTS

  • Can we now put to rest the whole “lack of depth” problem Duke has. This team is well conditioned and has shown they can play a full 40 and and still have plenty in the tank at the end. Sure they might run into some issues during the ACC Tournament when it’s three games in three days, but depth only matters if you have starters who are having off nights, there are guys on the bench who can step in and produce. The Blue Devils played intensive  baseline-to-baseline defense against a bigger team and continually pushed the ball in transition, yet never once looked gassed. Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones each played all but one minute, while Justise Winslow played for 37 minutes. For Cook, that one minute off was the first break he’s gotten in four games.
  • With Okafor out, the Blue Devils didn’t even bother trying to simulate their typical offense. Instead they played a lot of motion, penetrating as Clemson overplayed the three-point line. There were a number of times when Amile Jefferson would come out to screen and all five Duke players were above the arc. Led by Cook, Jones and Winslow, Duke score 30 of their 42 first half points in the paint, hitting just 1-7 from three. Justise Winslow was especially strong, using his NBA ready body to muscle his way to the rim with some fancy Euro-step and up-and-under layups, finishing with 20 points. This was all surprising as the Tigers were one of the top teams in the conference in preventing two-point buckets. The fact is, with Duke playing so far out, the Tigers big men could not be effective away from the rim. In the second half, it was the three that put the game out of reach, as Duke hit 6 from deep, including three by Cook.
  • Because of the freshmen, Quinn Cook often gets lost in the conversation, but what a year he is having. With Okafor out, he and Winslow put the team on their shoulders. I think what impressed me is that the senior doesn’t force anything, always willing to accept what the defense throws at home. You want to follow him through a screen, he’ll drive it. You go under the screen, he’ll pull up for a three. In past seasons, Cook had tended to fade at the end, twice losing his starting job and not getting it back. Clearly, with the confidence he is playing with right now, that’s not going to happen again.
  • Clemson came into Cameron confident, knowing they wouldn’t have to guard Okafor, assuming they were dealing with a emotionally-drained team. Oddly enough, this over-confidence hurt the Tigers as they seemed to get ignore the patient offense they typically run. Yes, they build that early lead, but they were playing the game the way Duke wanted to play. The Blue Devils surprised the Tigers defensively I’m sure. They played a zone all game long, also showing a soft full court press, trapping the ball handler when the ball got past half court. Clemson never seemed to figure out how to attack it. They never pushed the ball and couldn’t shoot over the zone (going 4-18 from deep).
  • There is plenty of blame to go around on Clemson. However, I’m looking at Landry Nnoko. I’m sure he was prepping to take on Okafor all week long, but with Duke’s big man not there, it’s almost like he didn’t know what to do with himself. He found himself under attack by the Blue Devils’ penetrators. He did swap four away, but Duke had way too much successful attacking him inside. Most importantly, one of the better rebounding teams let a much smaller team control the boards. Duke finished with a 33-29 edge in rebounding, led by Justise Winslow, who pulled down 13 boards, a career high. Meanwhile, Nnoko grabbed just two rebounds. Now the Tigers’ big man has never been confused with a beast under the glass, but two rebounds against a team without Okafor is unacceptable.

RANDOM QUICKIES

  • Duke’s Grayson Allen played 18 minutes and was truly effective, putting in an alley-oop and nailing a three. He could be a key sub down the stretch if Coach K continues to gain confidence in him.
  • Tyus Jones struggled to score and didn’t get the calls on the drives he’s been getting lately, but he still had a solid game, dishing out nine assists, to just three turnovers, getting four steals.
  • Nice to see Gabe DeVoe get some minutes. The Clemson freshmen drained two threes. He had just one coming into the game.
  • The 78 points scored by Duke are the most points given up by Clemson this year.

LOOKING AHEAD: 
At 24-3 and 11-3 in the ACC, the Blue Devils remain two back in the loss column to Virginia, tied with Notre Dame. Next up is a road trip to face Virginia Tech on Wednesday. Clemson has now dropped four of five and at this point, they’ll be lucky to get an N.I.T. invite, let alone a NCAA Tournament ticket. They head home to face Georgia Tech.

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