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February 22, 2007

Duke holds off Tigers on the road

A dominating first half gave Duke enough cushion to overcome a strong second half Clemson rally as the Blue Devils staved off the Tigers 71-66 at Littlejohn Coliseum Thursday night.

While the first meeting between the schools in January made headlines for its controversial ending, the second matchup nearly lacked controversy but included plenty of drama.

The Blue Devils completely dominated the first half, doubling up Clemson 42-21 in the first 20 minutes and at one point holding the Tigers without a field goal for nearly 12 minutes as Duke took what was once a 13-13 game and outscored Clemson 29-8 for the remainder of the half.

Only a three pointer by Cliff Hammonds in the final seconds of the half helped stop the bleeding for the Tigers.

But Duke would have to fight for its life in the second half as Clemson cranked up its full court pressure and generated some easy baskets to cut the lead and fire up its crowd.

Duke managed just five points in the first 10 minutes of the second half, and at the 10:00 mark the lead had been cut all the way to 47-42.

But Duke made key plays down the stretch to make sure victory number 21 of the season didn't get away.

David McClure hammered home a baseline dunk on an assist from Josh McRoberts to quiet momentum and push Duke's lead back to eight at 51-43.

And just a couple of possessions later, McRoberts and Greg Paulus scored on consecutive possessions to take the lead up to double digits again at 56-45 with 6:12 left to play.

Jon Scheyer, who scored 18 points for the game to lead the Blue Devils, scored 10 of those points in the final five minutes, including a pair of backbreaking three pointers that kept Clemson at arm's length.

Then after Clemson mounted one more charge to make the 62-57 with 2:00 to go, McRoberts took the ball coast to coast against Clemson's press, which had vacated the middle of the court and left a wide open lane to the basket. McRoberts took advantage for an easy layup, and Duke hit 7-9 free throws the rest of the way to salt the win away.

After the game, Mike Krzyzewski expressed great pleasure with the win and said that Clemson's second half rally brought out signs of his team's inexperience, but at the same time the Blue Devils withstood a big punch from a team playing for its NCAA Tournament life.

"We played almost a perfect 15 minutes in the first half except we gave up the three [at the end of the half], which was a bad thing to do because we had so thoroughly outplayed them in the last 16 minutes of that half," Krzyzewski said.

"Obviously, with their crowd and where they're at, they're going to come after us. I thought we became tentative. It's the sign of a young team I think. They started playing the score. We're telling them to run, but then all of a sudden we're not doing that, we're just not doing it. We started turning the ball over again. They run a good press with good athletes who put pressure on you."

The win assures Duke of at least a .500 finish in the ACC and improves the Blue Devils' winning streak to three games after they had dropped four in a row in the first part of February.

"Big win for our team, especially after the two amazing wins against Boston College and Georgia Tech, emotionally," Coach K said. "Our upperclassmen really helped us in practice and made everybody ready for this ballgame. We beat a team that was desperate on their home court, and it's a huge win for us."

Duke steps out of conference Sunday to take on St. John's at Madison Square Garden, before embarking on the final two ACC regular season games against Maryland and North Carolina next week.


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