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(Photo by Ethan Hyman/ Raleigh News & Observer/ EHYMAN@NEWSOBSERVER.COM)

Blue Review: A 2021-22 Duke Basketball Recap – Game 19 vs Clemson

Duke Basketball
Paolo Banchero flexes after scoring the game-winning bucket against Clemson. Banchero had 19 points and seven rebounds in the 71-69 win for Duke Basketball. (Photo by Ethan Hyman/ Raleigh News & Observer/ EHYMAN@NEWSOBSERVER.COM)

Blue Review: A 2021-22 Duke Basketball Recap – Game 19 vs Clemson

Coming off the heels of arguably their best defensive performance of the season, Duke’s efforts on Tuesday were a complete 180. In some respects, the Blue Devils (16-3, 6-2 ACC) have been in an almost Jekyll and Hyde state, shifting personalities from one game to the next. While Duke Basketball earned their keep defensively against Syracuse, they seemed almost apathetic and lethargic against Clemson on Tuesday.

And still, the Blue Devils escaped with a narrow 71-69 victory over a gritty Tigers squad.

In the ACC, a win is a win, no matter how dominant you were. Mike Krzyzewski’s final squad remains in striking distance of first place in the conference, and with an extended road trip looming, the Blue Devils needed the win against Clemson. It was by no means pretty or flawless, but gutting out a victory in a game you, frankly, had no business winning, is both a positive – Duke won – and negative – the struggles of this team, mainly rebounding and turnovers, continue to persist.

Behind freshman phenom Paolo Banchero, the Blue Devils pulled away late. But it was the performances of bench cogs Joey Baker and Bates Jones, who kept Duke engaged in the first half. The pair combined for 16 points on 4-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc. It was a shocking explosion from the duo and illustrated both that Banchero’s early foul trouble, plus Clemson’s defense were limiting the Blue Devils offensively. Again, though, the production from the pair was invaluable, in particular Baker’s late game runner in the paint to secure a two-point lead in the second half.

Still, it isn’t all gloom and doom. Sure, stuff needs to be cleaned up – mainly the aforementioned rebounding and turnovers- but this isn’t to say that young teams aren’t still figuring things out in January. The Blue Devils, excluding Tuesday’s bench minutes, have a short rotation, especially with the absence of freshman guard Trevor Keels.

The concerns will also remain so long as they go unaddressed, especially from the national media. It seems to be an effort thing at the moment, and the struggles will likely hinder Duke come postseason play. But for now, a win is a win and that’s the major takeaway.

Jeremy Roach continues to shine in Keels’ absence

Roach has recorded a season-high nine assists in consecutive games against the Orange and Tigers. He has totaled 28 assists over the last four games, with only three turnovers to boot. That’s a 9.3 assist-to-turnover ratio for all you math majors at home. For a squad that has been handicapped by turnovers in ACC play – they rank 13th in the conference in turnover percentage, per KenPom – Roach’s emergence as the primary creator of late is immense.

It was Roach who found Banchero on the low block for the game winning bucket. It was also Roach who nailed a 3-pointer at the 4:44 mark to give the Blue Devils a two-point lead. And it was Roach, again, who hit a pull-up jumper to tie the game at 65 a piece with three minutes to play. With Wendell Moore’s playmaking fluctuating recently, Roach’s consistent performances lend itself well to the team’s impressive ability to share the ball – 18 assists per game as a team, which ranks sixth nationally.

“Just staying aggressive and being sharp with your passes,” said Roach of his recent playmaking. “It really starts in practice, just being sharp out there, finding guys, giving the guys confidence when they’re open for their shot. I give all the credit to the guys who are hitting big shots out there for me.”

VIA Duke Athletics/goduke.com

Paolo Banchero takes over in second half

Inhibited by first-half foul trouble, Banchero got off to a slow start. In the second half, though, the Seattle native once again showed why he is a projected top three pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. To open the second period, he was on the receiving end of a friendly home bounce on a fallaway jumper. Then, just a possession later, he went to work on the wing with his patented right jab step into a pull-up jumper from just inside the arc. Banchero got Clemson’s Hunter Tyson airborne, drew the foul and connected on the shot. After nailing the free throw to give Duke an early 41-36 lead out of halftime, it seemed that momentum would help the Blue Devils pull away.

But as fate would have it, and has history this season indicates, Duke Basketball was once again unable to really put the final nail in the coffin, as they instead opted for a 20-minute slugfest. Despite their inability of late to put games away, Banchero once again notched an impressive, all-around performance with 19 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

Two games ago, in the overtime thriller loss to Florida State, the 19-year-old didn’t touch the ball on the final possession, beyond throwing the ball in bounds. Tuesday was a different story.

With just over 90 seconds to play, Moore found Banchero in the short corner and the latter connected on a touch shot to extend Duke’s lead to four. Yet, with all the momentum of the scoring run, plus the eruption of the Cameron Crazies, Banchero decided that the next best shot was a pull-up 3-pointer. He missed and Clemson’s Tyson got a runaway dunk to put the game within reach for the Tigers once again. The game-winning possession, however, was indicative of Banchero’s innate ability to dominate at the collegiate level in the paint. He sealed Tyson, caught the entry pass from Roach, turned over his right shoulder and finished through contact to all but seal the game for Duke Basketball.

Ultimately, Banchero’s ability to score in the mid-range and post makes him one of the most dominant players in all of college hoops. But his propensity to settle for shots from the outside, when he could have a field day on the interior, is frustrating at times. He doesn’t need to show so much polish and finesse offensively, his strength and finishing ability in the paint will be enough.

Turnovers and rebounding and defending, oh my!

While that might have been a poor The Wizard of Oz cliché, it sums up the Blue Devils trio of compounding problems. The former two are much more significant struggles in games this season, with the third being just a bit reactionary, so we’ll tackle the defending conundrum first.

Duke Basketball was almost indifferent defensively against Clemson. The Blue Devils, a team whose identity has been their defense, conceded 15 fast break points and nine second-chance points. The Tigers attempted 19 more field goals and hit 42.3% of their 3-pointers – Duke has held opponents to 29.6% shooting from distance this season. Late rotations and lackadaisical transition defense allowed Clemson to stay in the game. Nevertheless, this is still a somewhat reactionary take, and the absence of Keels as a secondary primary defender to Moore, does hurt the team on that side of the court – so no need to sound any alarms, right now.

As for the turnovers and rebounding, it’s been talked about ad nauseum and it’s a persistent problem. Duke’s frontcourt size would lead one to assume they dominate on the boards. It’s actually the complete opposite. The Blue Devils were outrebounded 39-31 and 14-3 on the offensive glass. It might be an effort thing, it might not be, but there were too many times last night where Clemson players beat Blue Devils to 50-50 balls and long rebounds. Duke also had 12 turnovers on the night, but 75% of those came in the first half. The Blue Devils put themselves behind the 8-ball because of self-inflicted wounds, except they were much more conscious of ball security in the second half, and it narrowly worked in their favor.

“I think we got accustomed,” Krzyzewski said of Duke’s second-half turnaround. “They knocked us back because it wasn’t just pressure on the ball, it was old-time man to man defense where you had a hard time making entry, or if you did, you’re out of your normal area of deployment—getting a ball to the elbow. Every single one of their kids played hard, and we fought that. I think that Bates [Jones] and Joey [Baker] being older were able to deal with physical games, and then in the second half, we adjusted to that level.”

VIA Duke Athletics/goduke.com

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