DURHAM, N.C. – It took more effort than needed, but the 15th-ranked Duke Blue Devils eventually distanced themselves from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) last-place Clemson Tigers at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Thursday.
Guard Rebecca Greenwell’s 21 points and 13 from point Lexie Brown led the Blue Devils (19-4, 7-3) to a 65-37 finish over the struggling Tigers (12-11, 1-9).
Jaia Alexander (10 points), Aliyah Collier (6 points) and two 3s from Victoria Cardaci were the bright spots for the Clemson offense.
Even while having posted their first league win recently, the Tigers’ 28-percent shooting output had no chance to match Duke’s 48-percent performance from the field.
The numbers were deceiving, particularly as both teams went through various three, four, five-minute scoring droughts throughout.
Chalk that up to tenacious defense, erratic at times, on Clemson’s part that caused Duke to play off-tempo and rush shots and not be in proper position to rebound at both ends of the court.
“Well I think what we did especially well was to put a lot of pressure on the perimeter, ” Clemson head coach Audra Smith said.
“So they couldn’t get the ball inside, and then we stay on angles defensively in the post. So then they couldn’t flash easily into the lane and then also on their post ups we tried to push them out of their comfort zones.”
The Tigers scored nine second-chance points to the Blue Devils’ two in the first half.
“We had to play a lot of defense today, but that is the nature sometimes,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie pointed out.
That was early on through 20 minutes as Duke led 34-20 at halftime.
Though a 14-point lead doesn’t suggest such, a sloppy first quarter created a slow start that eventually transformed to what eventually ended as the expected and dominating win it should have been.
“I think we were just trying to get the best shot possible and at times, that was leading to over-passing and hesitation on the first open shot, maybe looking ahead to get that better second or third shot,” Brown said.
“We can’t do that. We have to stay in attack mode. People are going to miss. People are going to make mistakes and I think we got that lead and we just wanted to keep it instead of extend it. We just had to fix that mentality and we did in the second half.”
To their credit, the Blue Devils held Clemson to the lowest total of any ACC opponent to date while staying unbeaten at home.
Claiming 13 steals, scoring 13 fast-break points, 13 off turnovers, and 30 points in the paint eventually completed the game it was.
Call it a color-by-numbers picture that you couldn’t recognize or appreciate until it was all filled in after the full 40 minutes were played.
In essence, it was a game during which many small details and mistakes committed by Duke were not heavily punished by Clemson, but if had been, could have turned into a more concerning result.
“We were expecting them to play a slower paced game, so we wanted to speed them up where we could,” Brown said.
“If they did want to still slow it down, they kind of had to speed it up because they didn’t have a lot of time left. We just forced them into bad shots.”
“We might not have gotten as many steals or deflections as we could have, but overall it was a great team defensive effort,” McCallie added.
“That is important because you never know how the game will go.”
Duke: Rebecca Greenwell – 21 points, 4 rebounds; Lexie Brown – 13 points, 3 rebounds, 7 assists; Leaonna Odom – 8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 3 steals
Clemson: Jaia Alexander – 10 points, 2 rebounds; Aliyah Alexander – 6 points, 5 rebounds; Victoria Cardaci – 6 points, 4 rebounds
Duke 34, Clemson 20
Though struggling at times to drop easy putbacks and jumpers, Duke’s 6-of-17 shooting in the first quarter was slightly worse than Clemson’s 4-of-11 from the field.
A couple of 3s and work at the free throw line made the difference for the Blue Devils before starting to outpace the Tigers during the second half.
Duke led for all but the first 29 seconds of the game.
Odom and Greenwell put Duke ahead 5-0 quickly with a layup and three-pointer within the first minute.
Duke missed successive shots, forced turnovers, but didn’t capitalize on all of them.
The small opening Clemson saw, Collier took to run a layup in.
A long jumper from Lambert and a layup from Greenwell soon had Duke up 11-2 at the 6:01 mark.
After going scoreless for four-plus minutes, a banked 3-pointer pulled Clemson within eight, trailing 13-5 with 3:05 to go.
The Blue Devils fell into a shooting rut themselves, not scoring from the field for over four minutes.
A jumper from Crystal Primm had Duke leading 17-9 at the end of the period.
Gutsy defensive play by the Tigers provided opportunity to pull closer, trailing 23-16 before a three by Greenwell reestablished a double-digit margin for the Blue Devils.
Aggressive offensive rebounding resulted in Collier pulling Clemson within seven.
A three from Brown and work at the free throw line following a jumper from Greenwell soon had Duke leading by 15.
The Blue Devils finished the period on an 8-1 run.
Though continuing slow to start the period, Duke eventually established an offensive rhythm and put together a 6-0 run and led 44-27 at the halfway point.
Turnovers denied Clemson chances to score and resulted in a nearly seven-minute scoreless drought from the field.
More turnovers and missed shots highlighted play by both teams to end the quarter.
Thought not scoring for the final four minutes, Duke led 46-28 heading into the final 10 minutes of play.
Clemson scored on two successive possessions while the Blue Devils didn’t.
Oderah Chidom (8 points, 5 rebounds) fought to put up a score in the paint as Duke led 48-32 with 8:24 remaining.
Effective movement off the ball allowed Brown and Chidom to score points in close.
Coupled with Greenwell’s long jumper from the left corner, Duke’s run extended to 8-0, and gave the Blue Devils their largest lead of the game, 54-32.
For the final five minutes, Duke shut down the Clemson offense and showcased various scoring sequences.
Faith Suggs’ drop-step spin-around layup brought the crowd of 3,564 to its feet.
The Blue Devils led 60-34 with 2:37 remaining.
The Tigers didn’t convert a basket for the remainder of the game, save two free throws, as Belton’s putback completed an 11-3 run to end it for Duke.