GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Duke advanced to the ACC semifinals with a 63-62 win over Clemson on Friday despite allowing the Tigers to shoot 51 percent from the floor. Here are five observations from the Blue Devils’ win:
Duke may have finally learned from its losses how to finish off a team down the stretch. In the loss to Wake Forest, the Blue Devils got away from driving to the basket and lost their focus defensively. Even though Clemson rallied from a 10-point deficit to take the lead late, Duke stayed with the game plan. "We’re a quick learner,” guard Rasheed Sulaimon said. “It’s March now and we can’t do the same things that were unsuccessful in the beginning. That’s just dumb. We have to capitalize on our opportunities and learn from our mistakes and turn our weaknesses into strengths.”
Rebounding was one such weakness, but the Blue Devils have had a rebirth in that area. Against North Carolina, they turned around a 14-rebound deficit from their loss to a 13-rebound advantage in their win. The Tigers beat Duke 48-30 on the boards in their 72-59 win back on Jan. 11. The Blue Devils enjoyed a 34-25 edge in Friday’s semifinals. “It’s that feeling that you remember having after you got your butt kicked,” forward Amile Jefferson said. “After you got killed on the glass, after guys were dunking on your rims. As a team our bigs made it set that that’s not going to happen.”
Tyler Thornton was probably the only Duke defender who could make the final play. Clemson’s Rod Hall gathered full-court steam and was headed for a game-winning score when Thornton stripped him to seal the win for the Blue Devils. “He was coming at me so fast there was no way I could stop him without hitting him and getting a foul,” Thornton said. “He had a step on me and I had an opportunity to get my hand in. When he ripped the ball through, I just got my hand on it.”
Rodney Hood has his own break time. Once again he had to leave a game in order to throw up. He said he doesn’t know why it happens, but he said it’s not nerves. He’s probably right because the first time it happened in a game this season was against Eastern Michigan. “I don’t know what it is, we’ve been taking medicine and stuff like that,” Hood said. “I feel great after so if that’s what has to happen then I’m fine with it.” Hood said as long as it doesn’t happen in the final minutes of a close game he can live with coming out of a game to take care of it.
Duke destroyed NC State 95-60 in their regular-season meeting on Jan. 18 in Cameron Indoor Stadium. But the Blue Devils can expect a very different game in the ACC tournament semifinals. Duke outscored State 33-2 in points off turnovers; State committed a season-high 21 turnovers back then, but in its past seven games it’s only reached double figures in turnovers once. “They’re a completely different team,” Hood said. “T.J. Warren is playing out of his mind right now and his teammates are responding. If we take them light, they can beat us.”