Smith scores 21, No. 4 Duke tops Clemson 70-59
DURHAM, N.C. (AP)—Not much came easy for Nolan Smith in his final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Smith scored 21 points and Kyle Singler added 18 points and 11 rebounds in their Cameron finale, leading Duke past the Tigers 70-59 on Wednesday night.
“Just knowing that it’s your last time out there, we just wanted to play hard,” Smith said. “They played a tremendous game defensively, being really physical defending us. We had to get tougher, and then there was a point in the game when we all got tougher and made the tough plays in order to win.”
Seth Curry also had 18 points for the Blue Devils (27-3, 13-2 Atlantic Coast Conference). They overcame a season-high 20 turnovers and never trailed in a physical second half to finish their 17-0 season at Cameron—their second straight undefeated season at home. A sign in the locker room commemorated the occasion: “17-0. Our house.”
“That was a great experience for us before we go into the tournament, to play a game like that and win it,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Obviously, there was a need to win it because it was Senior Night. This game wasn’t won because of Senior Night. This game was won because our kids were tough. All of them.”
Demontez Stitt scored 14 points to lead the Tigers (19-10, 8-7), who threatened their season low by shooting 30 percent. Still, they managed to keep it within single digits for most of the game and were in it down the stretch despite being held to two field goals in a late 11-minute span.
“You’ve got to make some of the shots we missed to win,” coach Brad Brownell said. “That’s the difference between being a pretty good team and being a great team.”
The latter part of that drought coincided with the span when the Blue Devils gave themselves just enough separation. They outscored Clemson 13-4 while pushing the lead into double figures for just the second time. Curry capped that run with a free throw with 5:02 left that put Duke up 63-52.
The Tigers cut it to 65-59 on Tanner Smith’s jumper with 2 minutes left, but didn’t score the rest of the way. Nolan Smith answered by scoring on a baseline drive and then splitting through the Clemson defense on his way to a tomahawk dunk with 37.6 seconds left that put Duke up by double digits to stay.
That was one of the only things that came easy on this night for the Blue Devils and their Smith. The ACC’s leading scorer approached his average of 23 points, but he struggled to do it, finishing 7 of 20 from the field with a career-high eight turnovers to go with seven assists.
“Their pressing and denying of the ball, they really sped us up,” Nolan Smith said. “They did a great job at that. There was those times that we slowed it down and got good shots. That’s what we should have been doing the whole game, because they really played physical and defended us.”
Said Krzyzewski: “They went right after Nolan.”
Duke bounced back from the weekend loss at Virginia Tech that cost it a No. 1 national ranking by winning its NCAA-best 36th straight home game, claiming its 56th in a row at Cameron against unranked opponents and avoiding its first losing streak since 2008-09.
The Blue Devils went 65-2 at Cameron during the careers of Singler and Smith, with the only losses coming during their freshman and sophomore seasons to hated rival North Carolina. Duke’s record in games Singler has played is 120-21; with Smith on the court, the Blue Devils are 116-20.
“To average 30 wins a season, these kids, these seniors, they’ve done a lot. They still have a lot to do,” Krzyzewski said. Duke’s long history of producing No. 1 teams through the years is “a heck of a thing to live up to, and our kids have to live up to it every day. Every day. And these kids should be congratulated for the time when it was on their watch.”
Next up for the Duke is a trip to Chapel Hill on Saturday night to face those Tar Heels with the No. 1 seed in next week’s ACC tournament on the line.
Duke’s seniors did most of the work early on Senior Night, with Singler and Smith combining for 16 of the Blue Devils’ first 20 points. Duke took the only double-figure lead of the first half for either team with Curry capping a 14-2 run with a 3-pointer that made it 31-20 with 5 1/2 minutes before the break. Clemson responded by reeling off 12 straight points to take its last lead of the game.
Milton Jennings added 10 points and 11 rebounds and Jerai Grant added 11 boards for the Tigers, who were denied their first victory at Cameron since 1995. They’ll enter their regular-season finale against Virginia Tech on Saturday still in contention for a first-round bye in the ACC tournament.
“I felt like we played hard, gave a lot of effort. We just didn’t finish a lot of shots around the rim,” Stitt said. “That’s how it goes sometimes. We tried to counteract what they were doing, but with those two seniors, two of the top guys in the league, they played hard. They didn’t want to lose.”