Friedlander: Duke's last-second win against Clemson raises more questions than answers
DURHAM, N.C. – Was he fouled or not?
The answer depends on which side of the whistle that decided Saturday’s game between Duke and Clemson you fall.
Tigers coach Brad Brownell clearly didn’t agree with the foul that sent the Blue Devils’ Tyrese Proctor to the line for the game-winning free throws with 1 second remaining, saying afterward that his team had the game “taken from us.”
His counterpart Jon Scheyer was understandably happier about the result, a 72-71 Duke victory.
It was the Blue Devils’ 1st win this season in a game decided by 2 possessions or less. And it kept them tied for 2nd in the ACC with a showdown with league-leading North Carolina coming up next week.
But while the outcome was cause for celebration among the 9,314 Crazies that packed into Cameron Indoor Stadium and brought about a sigh of relief from Scheyer, who came within a whisker of a 2nd straight home loss, Clemson may have exposed a fundamental flaw that’s likely to cost the 12th-ranked Blue Devils somewhere down the line.
And there’s not a lot Scheyer can do about it.
YOU MAKE THE CALL: was this a foul on Clemson to give Duke the win?? 😳🤔 pic.twitter.com/aZBO2SzMtM
— The Field of 68 (@TheFieldOf68) January 27, 2024
His team has a hole in its middle.
Not a huge one like those sinkholes that swallow up houses and everything surrounding them down in Florida. But enough of a void to give Duke problems when facing a longer, taller, more physical opponent like the Tigers.
“They’re a big team, very physical. We knew that coming into the game,” 6-foot-9 forward Mark Mitchell said afterward. “The way they play with the post-ups, we knew it was going to be tough. But we tried to battle through it.”
Battle they did, especially Mitchell who had 13 points and a team-leading 6 rebounds.
But there’s only so much that can be done when the team’s only true low post presence is 6-10 reserve Ryan Young, who played only 16½ minutes off the bench and contributes more with his effort than his stat line.
Even though star sophomore Kyle Filipowski has the size at 7 feet tall, his skill set is that of a stretch 4 – a player more suited to putting the ball on the floor and attacking the rim or shooting perimeter jumpers than playing with his back to the basket.
He “didn’t have his best stuff,” as Scheyer put it afterward, against Clemson bigs PJ Hall, Ian Schieffelin, Chauncey Wiggins and RJ Godfrey.
Not only did he get into foul trouble trying to defend the paint, but he was an uncharacteristic 2-of-8 from the floor on the offensive end. Including 0-for-3 on 3-pointers and 5-of-11 from the line.
Although Filipowski made one of the game’s biggest baskets and the ensuing free throw to put Duke ahead 70-69 with 15 seconds left, he finished with only 9 points and nearly as many turnovers (3) as rebounds (4).
Filipowski AND ONE for the LEAD 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/AoSO2aaFzH
— The Field of 68 (@TheFieldOf68) January 27, 2024
“You have to give them credit. They’re physical, they do a really good job of walling up inside and they have multiple bodies they can put on him.”
Filipowski wasn’t the only Blue Devil who found the going tough inside and on the glass.
Duke was only 9-of-18 as a team on layups. It was outrebounded 42-33 and managed only 4 on the offensive end. Two each by Mitchell and Young. Even with them, the Blue Devils didn’t have a single 2nd-chance point. Clemson finished with 15.
That might sound like a head-scratching stat for a team that returned 4 starters from a unit that led the ACC in offensive rebounds and rebounding margin a year ago.
But it shouldn’t be considering the identity of the 1 missing starter.
Dereck Lively II didn’t put up eye-popping numbers. But he is such an effective rim protector and rebounder that he was picked 12th overall in the NBA draft and is starting for the Dallas Mavericks.
His presence helped make life much less complicated around the basket for Filipowski, Mitchell and everyone else on the team.
It’s an element this current edition of the Blue Devils don’t have.
Scheyer did his best to try and compensate for that hole in the middle by using different lineup combinations against the Tigers, including giving seldom-used 6-9 freshman Sean Stewart more run than usual.
In the end, it was the Blue Devils grit and determination that helped pull it through this time. With guard Jared McCain helping in the post out by collapsing down and closing off passing lanes, they forced 4 of Clemson’s 9 turnovers in the game in the final 2-plus minutes to avoid a repeat of last week’s upset at the hands of Pittsburgh.
“(Clemson’s) physicality can wear you down a little bit. So we had to play through that,” Scheyer said. “It was just a mental toughness thing. … It’s about digging deep and they did that.”
They did this time.
But toughness will only help a team so much when the opponent is bigger, longer and more physical.
You can’t always count on getting a whistle at the end.
Even when you’re Duke.