The game went as expected
There may have been some Clemson fans who were excited to see Freshman big-man Jahlil Okafor out for the game with an ankle injury, but except for the super optimistic fan, many still expected Duke to win big. It was more of the same for Clemson as their strong defense was eventually affected by their putrid offense leading to let-downs on defense and a big loss.
There's a reason that Duke is the number 4 team in the country. They are loaded with plenty of talent, and their strong backcourt and Justice Winslow made up for the loss of Okafor with ease. Even without Okafor, Duke had 7 McDonald's All-Americans to Clemson's 0. With the exception of Gabe Devoe, Clemson fans saw no surprises in this game.
Duke is a national title contender.
To go along with my last point, Duke is a national title contender. Despite what seems like an obvious takeaway from this game, there have been some out there touting Duke's weaknesses, inexperience, and doubtful probability of winning a title this year. After this performance, I don't care what Walt Deptula or any other talking head says about this Duke team. They are a title contender. Their backcourt of Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook reminds me some of Uconn's backcourt of Napier and Boatright who won the title last year. When you add in stand-out freshmen Winslow and Okafor and arguably the best coach in the country in Coach K, that's a tough team to beat in March. We have to remember that Clemson is an extremely good defensive team, and they gave up 78 points to Duke which is the most points they've given up all year. Duke was even able to do this without Okafor who is considered by many to be the best player in the country.
Clemson's turnovers contributed significantly to the way this game went.
Clemson struggled in a very major way against Duke's soft press. Brownell observed that Clemson acted as if they had never seen that before. Of Clemson's 14 turnovers, the more costly ones seemed to have come in the first half, and most of them came against that Duke pressure. Duke was able to capitalize off these turnovers again and again.
Before the game was even over at the 7 minute mark of the 2nd half, Duke was crushing Clemson in fast break points 19-2. Jordan Roper, Rod Hall, and Donte Grantham were the main contributors to the turnovers. Because Grantham is a freshman, his turnovers can somewhat be excused. However, Hall and Roper made some of the most head-scratching turnovers I've seen all season and did not play like the experienced ball-handlers the team needed in this game.
The upper-classmen again did not produce.
Rod Hall, Damarcus Harrison, and Landry Nnoko were all counted on to produce this year if Clemson was going to move forward in the post-KJ era, and each of them has fallen short of what has been needed and for the most part expected. This game was more of the same.
Harrison continued to be quiet as he shot 2-6 with 5 points. Hall is a gritty, tough player who is an exceptional defender. I've always liked Hall, but that kind of performance for your Senior point guard is extremely disappointing. I know he's banged up, but the turnovers and lack of leadership throughout the game were tough to take in. Landry Nnoko continued to build his house with his hook shots. Brick after brick has put me and many other fans at a loss what he was doing in the off-season and what has been going through his head all season. There are still a few more games to play, but you have to think this season has to be a wake-up call for him as he looks to how he can improve for next year.
It's time for the young guys.
One of the few positives of this game was how the young guys kept fighting down the stretch at the end of the game. Gabe DeVoe finally got into a groove shooting 2-3 from 3 scoring 8 points. Clemson needs to continue to see what they have in him as well as others.
An NIT berth is probable, but not a guarantee at this point. Unless Clemson completely falls apart down the stretch, they should be able to get in. Whether they do or don't, it's time for the young guys to get more playing time at this point in the season. Rod Hall has consistently pushed 36-38 minutes throughout the year, and Clemson needs to see what it has when he's gone next year. Is Roper capable of playing the point? Is Devoe? What can Ajukwa do with more playing time? These are all questions that many Clemson fans have, and Brownell may have as well. It would be profitable to look for the answer to those as well as other questions about the young guys this last stretch of the season.