Another day, and another team ranked in the top ten takes a loss. Wednesday night it was No. 9 Duke’s turn, as the Blue Devils struggled not only with foul trouble but offensively as well in the second half of their 68-63 loss to Clemson.
Brad Brownell’s Tigers, who put together a rather nondescript résumé in non-conference play, has now beaten ranked teams in consecutive games for the first time since 1989 and they’re 4-1 in ACC play. The game turned with Duke big man Marshall Plumlee picked up his fourth foul with just over ten minutes remaining in the second half. From there the Blue Devils had to call upon freshman Chase Jeter, who promptly picked up his third and fourth fouls shortly after replacing Plumlee.
Clemson was able exploit Duke’s front court foul trouble, whether Duke was playing man or using a 1-3-1 or 2-3 zone. The Tigers found gaps in both zones, getting on a roll offensively that proved too much for the Blue Devils to overcome. It goes without saying that, even with their success in recent weeks, Duke misses Amile Jefferson. He was their most reliable front court option before going down with a foot injury, and his absence makes it even more important for Plumlee to remain out of foul trouble and he’s avoided that issue in most games.
That didn’t happen against a Clemson front line that featured Jaron Blossomgame, Landry Nnoko and Donte Grantham, with Blossomgame accounting for 17 points and six rebounds, Grantham adding 16 points and Nnoko posting a double-double of 12 points and 13 boards.
What was of greater issue for Duke was the offense, as they struggled to establish much of a flow in the second half. Clemson was able to keep Blue Devils other than Grayson Allen under wraps for most of the second half. Allen shot 5-for-6 from the field and scored 12 of Duke’s 28 second-half points; his teammates combined to shoot 6-for-19. And with the Tigers being one of the nation’s best at not sending opponents to the foul line (13th in defensive free throw rate), the visitors were unable to find many points from the charity stripe (2-for-7 FT) to make up for those scoring woes.
Duke’s second half performance is concerning, as their depth issues aren’t going to change until Jefferson returns and even then they’ll still lack much margin for error when it comes to either fouls or injuries. Clemson’s front court took advantage of this, and with their guards stepping forward to hit some big shots late the Tigers were able to pick up a second consecutive win over a ranked opponent.