Postseason play brought proving time with it for No. 7 Duke Friday night in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
Seeing so many second-half leads disappear in road losses this season, the Blue Devils vowed it would happen no more.
No. 3 seed Duke lost its 13-point second-half lead against No. 6 seed Clemson, but two of its captains turned in game-saving plays.
Rodney Hood drew a foul and hit two clutch free throws with 3.8 seconds left to put Duke ahead and Tyler Thornton knocked the ball away as Clemson’s Rod Hall attempted to drive for the winning basket as the Blue Devils escaped with a 63-62 win.
In the regular-season, Duke saw leads of double-digits or near there melt away in losses at Notre Dame, Clemson, Wake Forest and North Carolina.
This time, the Blue Devils (25-7) hung on to advance to the ACC Tournament semifinals against seventh-seeded N.C. State today (3:30 p.m. ESPN/WRAL).
“A month ago,” Hood said, “we lose that game.”
Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon found Thornton on the court just after the buzzer sounded and hugged him and told him he loved him.
“What can I say?” Sulaimon said. “Tyler, he always makes great plays. I’m so fortunate to have a teammate like that who sacrifices and who is willing to make winning plays like that time and time again. We were glad to have Tyler Thornton tonight. He’s the reason we won — he and Rodney Hood making the pressure 1-and-1.”
Duke led by 13 points with 12:19 to play, 10 points at 9:33 and nine points at 5:58.
But determined Clemson (20-12), fighting for its postseason life, clawed back to trail 61-60 with 47.7 seconds left.
After Sulaimon drove and misfired on a wild shot in the lane with 15 seconds left, Clemson’s Rod Hall drove to the basket and scored for a 62-61 Clemson lead with 7.4 seconds.
Hood, who scored 17 points despite a bout of nausea that caused him to throw up on the bench early in the second half, took the ball for Duke near midcourt. He drove aggressively down court toward the lane and was fouled with 3.8 seconds left.
His nerves and stomach by then calm, he sank both free throws putting Duke up a point.
“I felt good,” Hood said. “I just shot my free throws relaxed and made them.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski lauded his captain for an aggressive play.
“It’s really one of the best plays for us that a player can make,” Krzyzewski said. “To take it down the court like that and to hit those free throw were huge.”
Clemson had one last chance with Hall, who scored 13 points, driving to the basket again. This time, Thornton avoided body contact and knocked the ball away with his hand. The ball rolled across the floor as time expired.
“He was just coming at me so fast the whole game,” Thornton said. “He’s very, very strong. The way he was coming at me there is no way I could stop him without hitting him and getting a foul. The coaches said don’t foul. He had a step on me. I reached my hand in and when he ripped the ball through I just got my hand on it. I tipped it and tried my best not to touch him at all.”
The ending didn’t sit well with Clemson coach Brad Brownell.
“Two bang-bang plays right at the basket,” Brownell said. “They got a call and we didn’t.”
Duke built a 13-point lead with 12:09 to play only to see Clemson claw back within eight points at 48-40 within three minutes.
An Amile Jefferson basket pushed Duke’s lead back to 10 points. But Clemson scored points on its next three possessions, leaving Duke with a 50-45 lead with 8:18 to play.
With 5:58 left, Sulaimon’s drive and gutsy shot over Clemson center Landry Nnoko banked in to put Duke up 56-47.
Clemson struck back again with Demarcus Harrison and Hall sinking consecutive 3-pointers slicing Duke’s lead to 56-53 with 3:50 left.
Duke’s lead remained at three points as the teams traded baskets on the next four possessions.
After Sulaimon missed a 3-pointer in the corner, Harrison scored on a layup in transition leaving Duke with a 60-59 lead with 1:41 to play.
Sulaimon and McDaniels traded single free throws and Duke had the ball up 61-60 with 47.7 seconds to play.
That left time for Sulaimon’s miss, Hall’s make, Hood’s free throws and Thornton’s defensive stand
“That was a bruising game,” Krzyzewski said. “Points were really hard to come by. I know they were fighting for their NCAA lives.”
|No. 7 DUKE 63, CLEMSON 62|
Percentages: FG .512, FT .667.
3-Point Goals: 4-16, .250 (Roper 1-2, Hall 1-2, McDaniels 1-3, Harrison 1-3, Filer 0-2, Ajukwa 0-2, Blossomgame 0-2).
Team Rebounds: 2.
Blocked Shots: 5 (Nnoko 3, Djitte, McDaniels).
Turnovers: 10 (Hall 3, Blossomgame 2, McDaniels 2, Smith, Harrison).
Steals: 4 (McDaniels, Ajukwa, Nnoko, Filer).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .400, FT .889.
3-Point Goals: 3-13, .231 (Thornton 1-1, Cook 1-2, Sulaimon 1-4, Dawkins 0-1, Jones 0-1, Parker 0-1, Hood 0-3).
Team Rebounds: 5.
Blocked Shots: 0.
Turnovers: 6 (Parker 2, Thornton, Hood, Dawkins, Plumlee).
Steals: 6 (Thornton 2, Parker, Sulaimon, Cook, Hood).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials_Roger Ayers, Sean Hull, Bill Covington Sr..