Taming the Tiger, Take Two


Now that’s more like it. Duke walked into a hostile environment, kept it close for a half and then took over in the final 20 minutes. After opening up a quick 13-point lead with only seven and a half minutes gone by in the second period, Clemson was able to get back within seven, but that was as close it ever got. Duke just never let up and Clemson had no answer, other than Trevor Booker (of course).


Coach K decided that losing on the road ends here. How do I know? Because Singler, Scheyer and Smith played a combined 117 minutes. Singler and Scheyer played a full 40, while Nolan sat for three minutes, but that was just because he picked up two early fouls.

The Devils basically became a six-man rotation tonight. That’s how important this win was. Andre Dawkins saw no action tonight, while Mason Plumlee only got eight minutes on the court. Now if you’ve been reading this blog (and I know you have), I don’t agree with the strategy at all, no matter how much it paid off tonight. Let me explain.

What has been Duke’s problems over the years? If you’re a fan, you can easily pinpoint three of them. A) Not enough speed to handle quick guards. B) No inside game. C) Tired legs come March.

While Duke was really unable to address “A”, the Devils now have plenty of size, each capable of doing something positive inside the paint. That size also helps out some with “A” because it allows the Duke guards to get tough on the outside, because the inside guys can handle their own. However, that still leaves “C”.

No matter how good Duke looks NOW, no matter how many games they win NOW, the same storyline is going to reappear. That is, come March Duke will be burned out. This Duke team won’t have any legs left come tournament time. It’s been a stigma for a while now and let’s be honest, if Nolan, Kyle and Jon are going to keep playing 37-40 minutes per game in a brutal ACC, what kind of shape are they really going to be in come March Madness?

This is why I’ve stressed the importance of not cutting the freshman’s minutes. Even if Mason struggles at the defensive end, even if Dawkins’ shot isn’t falling, at the very least, they need to play to help keep the big three fresh for later in the season.

Am I wrong? Please tell me if I am…that’s all I’m going to say about that. No more negativity after a big win.

It’s time to start giving props to Nolan Smith. For whatever reason he’s sort of runs under the radar, despite having a stunningly great year. Tonight he was the man, scoring 22 (on 8-14 shooting), including three big baskets during Duke’s second half run. This is nothing new of course, as Nolan has scored 20 or more in seven of his last 10 games.

What’s best about Nolan’s offensive play is the fact that he’s not living on the three-point line, jacking up 3’s all day. Only 26% of his shots have been threes this season and he’s actually been shooting less now than at the beginning of the season. What’s most impressive is that he’s getting better as the season goes along. In his first five games, he averaged a solid 17.4ppg, but he had to shoot an average of 16 shoots per game to do it. Since then, he’s reduced his shots to 11.75 shots per game, but in that time his scoring has gone up to 19ppg.

So what’s going on? Well, like Gerald Henderson last year, Nolan has really turned himself into an all-around player in his junior campaign. While he’s not as athletic as Henderson was (who really can be?), he’s opportunistic, taking advantage of mismatches and lazy defense to get into the paint where he has developed a solid mid-range game. He’s also mastered the ability to take what the defense is giving him. If they back off him out on top, he’s not shy to take a three (in fact, he’s better than Henderson at that), but when they come in tight, he has no objection taking on his defender one-on-one.

Twice during the Clemson game, he took the base line and when the big man stepped up, he threw up a floater from the edge. Seriously, how often do you see floaters from the side? Never. This is what I’m talking about when I talk about smart’s. How many times over the years have you seen a Duke player take a charge because the opponent refuses to pull up? Too many to remember. Now count, how often does Nolan get called for charging. In fact, there is almost never any contact (something Scheyer looks for when he goes in). Nolan just lets go of the ball at the right time.

If I had to be critical with one thing in Nolan’s game…I’d have to say that when he drives, you know he’s going in for the score. From time to time, it will only help if he can deliver a pass to a sitting big man from time-to-time.

One turnover in the second half. Now that’s a freaking stat. The irony is, it was committed by Jon Scheyer. After a brutal first half that saw Duke struggle with the pressure by committing 11 turnovers (as did Clemson), the Devils turned it over one, single time in the second half. That’s pretty amazing considering that the Tigers press a full 60 minutes. Although technically they didn’t, which gets me to my next point.

Defense wins championship and defense is the best way to handle a press. Thank the gos that the Blue Devils rediscovered theirs after being embarrassed by NC State the other night. Duke held Clemson to 37.5% shooting and for the second time this season, the Tigers failed to hit 50 against Duke.This is key against Clemson because they ONLY press after a made basket and free throw. This means the Tigers were only able to press Duke on 20 of Duke’s 62 possessions.

Speaking of Clemson, the one person you can’t blame is Trevor Booker. He was the second straight big, strong forward to have a good scoring night against Duke (going 10-14 Saturday night). He finished with 22. Hell, Tracy Smith and Booker against Duke have combined to shoot 20-26 this past week. Ugh.

Yet, you can’t win with one player and that’s what Clemson tried to accomplish tonight. As Booker hit 10-14, the rest of his crew went a stunning 8-34 (including 2-13 from long distance).

Yet, despite the numbers Booker put up, I actually want to compliment Lance Thomas on his defense tonight. Here’s the deal, Thomas actually did a fine job against Booker. From the beginning of the second half to about the 2:50 mark, Thomas was locked up on Booker. During that time, Clemson’s big man actually only attempted only three shots (making two).

The fact is, it was Lance’ D that kept the ball out of Booker’s hands in the second half (Note: Booker scored three easy ones in the final 2:50 when Duke was more focused on guarding the three-point line).

The thing about Thomas is, when he’s not falling all over the floor like the scarecrow from the “Wizard of Oz,” what he does so well is get in front of the defender. Yet, he doesn’t use strength to overpower a player for a spot. He basically sits behind his opponent and when the ball gets passed around to his side, he uses his speed and long arms to snake around the offensive player. This is why he has been effective against some of the better big men in the league.

He’s been doing this all season long, but he runs into trouble when he commits too many fouls. Tonight, that wasn’t a problem. It also helped that he was second on the team in scoring. He actually took nine shots (while actually setting up his own shot a couple times), scoring 14 points.

Speaking of scoring, the big three did almost all the scoring. Singler, Scheyer and Smith combined to score 47 of Duke’s 60 points (78%). They did this by taking 73% of the shots. Again, I’m happy for the win, but I’d be happier if those percentages were about 10 points less. I just don’t think we can challenge for a national title with a three-man offense. Of course, I’m sick of beating a dead horse and I’m sure you’re sick of reading it. Let’s move on.

Jon Scheyer’s slump sort of continues. He shot a little better tonight, but we mean “a little” better. He was 5-13 from the floor, 1-5 from three (although he should have been 2-6, but the refs screwed up). So over the last two weeks (four games), Scheyer is 17-52 from the floor (32.7%) and in his last five, he’s only 9-37 from three (24.3%). That’s not even an acceptable number in baseball and it’s certainly not up to par for Scheyer.

Even his assist-to-turnover rate has drop significantly. He has 11 assists to go along with eight turnovers in his last three (that’s only 1.34/1 assist-to-turnover ratio). He’s still leading the nation in that category, but not for long.

Ryan Kelly, if you want more playing time, you have to hit those open three-point shots. The man came in with the ability to shoot the long ball. Hell, he won the 3-point contest at the McDonald’s game. Yet, he’s only hit three of them all season long.

Let’s revisit those Clemson offensive stats again. In two games against the Devils, the Tigers have combined to score 100 points, hitting 34-97 from the floor, 5-29 from three. In the first half of those two games, Duke held Clemson to a combine 35 points.

The Rankings: The Clemson Tigers have now dropped two straight games. Yet, both defeats were to ranked teams, so they might hang in the top-25 (currently they’re 18th). Duke did lose to NC State this week, but the road win against Clemson might be enough to keep them in the top-1o (currently they’re 7th).

Yo, Trevor Booker…nice block on Singler in the second half, but trash talking? Really? You were down 13 points at home.

Anyhow, great win. You can never complain when you take one on the road in the ACC. Yet, the celebration should be short and sweet. Duke’s got a brutal stretch coming up with the Noles coming in this week, before heading up to Georgetown next weekend. Then we turn around and head home to face Georgia Tech. The winner of the game will be the front runner for the conference champ.

For now, I’ll leave you with this: