Blue Devils survive opening ACC Tournament test

David Welker, ACC, TheACC.com
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David Welker, ACC, TheACC.com

David Kehrli

BROOKLYN, N.Y.- It wasn’t easy by any means, but the 14th-ranked Duke Blue Devils held on Wednesday to defeat Clemson 79-72 in the second round of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Tournament at Barclays Center, and advanced to face No. 10 Louisville Thursday at 2 p.m.

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski tied the legendary Dean Smith for most wins in ACC Tournament history with 58.

In a game where Duke’s best players struggled at times, freshmen Jayson Tatum (20 points, nine rebounds, four assists) and Frank Jackson (20 points, three rebounds) picked up the slack and carried the Blue Devils to victory.

“I think we can really roll off this win and keep going,” Jackson said.

“I just always try to stay aggressive. I like to score the ball — it’s what I do best. I’m lucky to have a coach who allows me to be myself, and players that I’m surrounded by that give me all the confidence in the world.”

With 2:51 remaining, Clemson cut the Duke lead to just one, before first-team All-ACC guard Luke Kennard, Tatum and Jackson proceeded to score the Blue Devils’ next 10 points to ensure a Duke win.

“It was a typical game for our conference,” Krzyzewski said.

“They’re good. We’re good. They’re in kind of a desperate situation, trying to make the [NCAA] Tournament. Brad [Brownell] has done a heck of a job with his team. They’ve lost more close games than anyone in our league — one-possession games.”

It was an underwhelming first half for Duke, especially for Kennard and the enigmatic Grayson Allen.

Kennard scored just three points (1-for-9 shooting) in the first 20 minutes, while Allen had no points and received a technical foul for slamming the ball on the court.

Despite nine Clemson turnovers and making just eight field goals, the Tigers headed to the half in a 33-33 tie because of free-throw shooting.

Almost half of the Tigers’ first half points came from the charity stripe, hitting 16 of 18 free throws.

The Blue Devils opened the second half on a 16-4 run to take a 49-37 lead at the 14:30 mark.

Kennard got into a rhythm in the second half, shooting 8-for-11 to finish the game with 20 points and five rebounds.

“He didn’t have a bad night; he had a bad half,” Krzyzewski said.

“He was 8 for 11 — if that’s bad, be bad all the time, man. I think that’s a heck of a performance when it isn’t going, then it goes. That shows you’re a different player. You’re a special player when you’re able to do that.”

Duke forward Amile Jefferson recorded his 16th career double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds).

Jaron Blossomgame (19 points, eight rebounds) and Shelton Mitchell (17 points, three assists) led the Tigers offensively.

Allen finished scoreless, and recorded just one rebound and one assist in 12 minutes of playing time.