DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke basketball cruised to its second Atlantic Coast Conference win of the season and its 15th victory overall Tuesday when it defeated Clemson 68-40 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. And much like the Blue Devils' ACC season opener against Wake Forest, its victory came behind solid defense and superior talent.
Duke's first half performance was not characteristic of what its done for most of the season, as it took the home team the first 5:27 to score its opening field goal of the contest. Clemson did not find the bottom of the net until 14:13 mark when Jordan Roper was able to complete a jumper in repsonse to Quinn Cook's first basket.
"They are a good defensive team and we are a good defensive team," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We did miss some open shots and we missed free throws, too."
Clemson's defense, which has been consistently regarded as its best asset under the leadership of Brad Brownell, played well enough early to keep the Blue Devils out of the scorers column for quite some time. But, the Tigers' offense is as bad as its defense is good.
The result was a clear Duke advantage, despite the appearance that the Devils were simply on cruise control for big portions of the game.
Duke began the evening 0-of-9 from the field before finally putting the ball through the net just after the first media timeout. Once the first shot went in, it appeared as if the Blue Devils would climb out of their funk on the offensive end of the floor when they knocked down five of their next eight shots.
Unfortunately for the Devils, they fell right back into the rut in which they began the game. Duke followed that 5-of-8 stint with an 0-of-6 showing over the course of the next three minutes. By the end of the half, the Blue Devils had connected on just 9-of-31 shots (29 percent).
Thankfully for Duke, though, its defense was outstanding during the first 20 minutes of action, holding the Tigers to just 10 first half points on 3-of-25 (12 percent) shooting. The result was a decisive 25-10 advantage at the half despite the offensive woes.
"They were really all over Seth [Curry]," Krzyzewski added. "They weren't going to let him get anything. They didn't have to double Mason [Plumlee]. I mean, [Devin] Booker is good, he is one of the better players in the league. They were both playing each other one-on-one and it was a wash, really. Mason's defensive rebounding was spectacular. He just had a hard time scoring in the first half."
Everyone had a hard time scoring in the first half except for Cook, who knocked down 3-of-4 shots for seven points. Ryan Kelly, despite hitting just 4-of-9 shots, was 2-of-2 from beyond the 3-point line, and finished the first half of action with 12 points and six rebounds.
He was outstanding in the game, but when the second half rolled around, the senior forward was left to sit on the bench with an injury to his right leg.
Duke had to adjust as a result. That meant Josh Hairston, Amile Jeffereson and Alex Murphy would have to play some minutes. Most of those went to Hairston and Jefferson, but all three made some plays to help the Blue Devils weather the storm of not having Kelly at their disposal on offense.
The three combined for just 8 points and 5 rebounds, but they brought a high level of energy that helped Duke compensate for what was lacking with Kelly on the bench.
While those three helped a great deal, it was Cook who stepped up his game and filled the scoring void left by Kelly. In fact, Cook torched the nets for 20 second half points on 9-of-12 shooting. Clemson's defense had no answer for the Blue Devils point guard, who also totaled five rebounds, five assists and four steals.
After posting a 14 assist game last time out, Cook now has 19 assists compared to just two turnovers in two ACC games this season.
Cooks' 27 points were a career high and left Krzyzewski quite happy with his performance.
"Quinn was terrific," he said. "We knew he would still shoot, being 0-11 in the last game, is not indicative of how he played. He had 14 assists [against Wake Forest].
"He showed the maturity of not trying to make up for 0-11 and just played his game. The numb rod points and assists and lack of turnovers is huge, but coming off an 0-11, I really love that. He was so good in that regard."
Cook, who has steadily improved since the first game of the season, has become one of Duke's key pieces and is forcing opponents to worry a little bit more about him than they probably would like.
Eventually, Cook's play will elevate pressure put on Plumlee, as has Curry's and Kelly's to this point. Rasheed Sulaimon is another guy that can add that dynamic to the game. But with Cook serving as a threat to pass the ball and set his teammates up for easy looks as well as putting the ball in the hoop himself, defenses are really finding it difficult to hold Duke in check.
When Kelly did not return in the second half of Tuesday's game, and with Plumlee's shot not falling like it has for most of the season, Cook was well aware that some of the burden of scoring had to fall upon his shoulders.
Curry was also being smothered by the Clemson defense, and Sulaimon was not seeing his shot go in. That simply left Cook to help bail the team out on offense.
And he did exactly that.
"We have a lot of great shooters on the court - Rasheed, Seth - so [defenses] can't help but so much," Cook said. "So the big guys set great screens and I was aggressive and sometimes they weren't helping on me, they were staying with Mason so I had some easy layups and I was fortunate tonight.
"With Ryan out, I just had to be more aggressive because he is one of our best scorers out there. You don't want to, just because he wasn't out there, force the issue. I wanted to take my shots and get everybody involved and play great defense."
Cook's outstanding offensive showing helped Duke to an 18-of-25 (72-percent) second half scoring performance. The Devils were 5-of-6 (83.3-percent) from 3-point range in the final half, thanks to two threes apiece from Cook and Curry and another from Tyler Thornton.
"The first half was a defensive half," Cook said. "Both teams were playing great defense. I think we pride ourselves on our defense and when we play defense like that it leads to our offense. In the second half things opened up for us and we hit some shots."
KELLY'S STATUS UNCERTAIN
Ryan Kelly's injury Tuesday night was so surprising that not even Krzyzewski knew about it until after he put the senior in for the final play of the second half.
It was then that one of Krzyzewski's assistants informed him of Kelly's injured foot.
When the Blue Devils came out of the locker room to begin the second half, Kelly was not with them. Several minutes later, Kelly appeared in his shorts and warmup jersey with no obvious signs of a problem.
He did not return to the game due to what Duke called an injured right leg. Following the game, there wasn't much more known about his status or what should be expected going forward.
"Ryan hurt his foot," Krzyzewski said. "We don't know the extent. It's the same foot. He'll have to do a cat scan (CT scan), X-rays and all that but we don't know the extent of the injury. As soon as we find out, we will put something out tomorrow. We are hopeful that it is not real serious. For precautionary reasons we felt that it was not good to play him in the second half."
If Kelly cannot play Saturday against NC State, Amile Jefferson, Alex Murphy and Josh Hairston all will see their minutes go up.