Duke Game Preview — Senior Day
Seasons always seem to fly by, with this one being no exception. And with COVID issues, players leaving, and weather delays, this season has seemed especially short as the team struggled to get into a real rhythm and find an identity. But, with three games to go, it’s been a treat to watch this team continue to improve and play its best basketball down the stretch. Something I’ve mentioned before, which has been a staple of the program under Coach Butler, is the fight and effort that this team almost always shows. Even if the execution isn’t there on a particular night, this team will fight and this staff will continue to coach until the final buzzer. Even in a season that hasn’t gone as expected, every game counts and wins should be celebrated. The last match-up against Duke in 2020 is a great example of why that’s true.
Coming into the game in January of 2020, Clemson was just 6–11 and 2–4 in ACC play. After a trip to the Round of 32 the previous season Coach Butler’s second season saw a dip. The team had lost so much veteran leadership, guard play, perimeter defense, and rebounding. They were working in new Freshmen and multiple transfers, trying to find an identity much like this year’s team. But, on that day in January, the Tigers flew out to a thirteen point lead after the 1st, built the lead to sixteen heading to the 4th, and held on late for a four point win, and an important one at that. Duke had won the last twenty-three games against Clemson as the Blue Devils rise to prominence as a program coincided with the Tiger’s decline. You never want to have any lengthy losing streak against any conference opponent, so any time you can quash one and start a streak in your favor it becomes a memorable day. Kendall Spray had quite a day, with sixteen points and twelve(!) rebounds for the diminutive guard. Kobi chipped in a solid fourteen and eight. But the biggest story of the day were the contributions of two Freshmen who have now solidified themselves both as starters and leaders of this team. Hannah Hank had seven points and five rebounds in contest, but went three of four from the foul line down the stretch with some clutch free throws as Duke was fouling trying to complete the comeback and finished with the 2nd highest plus/minus on the team. The player with the highest plus/minus was Amari Robinson, who tied Kendall for a team high sixteen points, added in nine rebounds, and went eight of ten from the line to salt the game away in the fourth. The two freshman handled the Duke press late extremely well, and combined to go eleven of fourteen from the line to help the Tigers end the long losing streak. Clemson struggled to build on the momentum from that game moving forward, but the streak was over and the experience and success from the young Freshmen are paying dividends still today.
Duke was able to rebound following the loss, and led by Senior Haley Gorecki they finished the season strongly. The NCAA tournament was cancelled due to COVID, but the Blue Devils would have been up for a spot, and if not would've been highly seeded in the NIT. But from the end of the season until now, the program has changed dramatically. Gorecki graduated, Kara Lawson took over as head coach, and their 2020/2021 season barely got off of the ground. Duke played just four games before calling it quits due to COVID concerns with a 3–1 record. The roster has had an almost complete overhaul since the last contest between the two teams, with only Goodchild and Akindbode-James remaining.
The Blue Devils started off hot, winning their first eight games, including a win over a ranked Iowa team. Their first loss was only by nine to UofSC, and as of a couple of weeks ago probably felt as if they were safely in the NCAA tournament and fighting for seeding. But after the last three games Charlie Creme has Duke falling and currently sitting at an 11 seed, clinging to a spot but nearing the bubble with every loss. The FSU loss by three is a game Duke should win but not a bad loss, a fifteen point loss to NCSU is nothing to be ashamed of, but their most recent one, a thirteen point loss to 4-win UVA has to be troubling to Duke fans. Virginia is playing better, they had halftime leads against BC and Clemson, but to lose and by such a margin is disappointing. With the way Clemson is playing lately, a repeat performance will likely end up with them getting ran out of Littlejohn. But I’d expect, with their postseason hopes on the line, we’ll see a much better version of Duke today. They’re led by Freshman Shayeann Day-Wilson, averaging 12.5 points per game and leading the team in assists. Overall this team, on paper, would seem to be outperforming its statistical profile. They shoot just 42/32/68 splits, have a negative turnover margin, and allow their opponents to shoot better from 3. But, as with a lot of conference opponents this year, they are a physical, tough defensive ball club. Duke’s opponents are shooting less than 40% from the field, they don’t allow many 3’s even at a decent percentage, they out-rebound their opponents, average over four blocks per game, and get to the line a bunch. The challenge will be for Clemson what it has been many times, don’t allow a struggling offense to get going by giving them good looks, limit turnovers, and fight on the boards as an undersized lineup.
Clemson is playing really well, Delicia is playing lights out, the only thing to keep her from three player of the week awards in a row is the fact that Clemson plays just one game this week. There’s no doubt she’ll be up to the task today, and I’m sure her teammates would love to send her and Skylar Blackstock out with wins in their final home game. Given Duke’s recent struggles, Clemson’s chance to rest with a week off, and it being Senior Day, you have to think the Tigers pull this one off. It will likely be close, as this team has a way of making most games thrillers, but I say Clemson wins this one and inches closer to that 11th spot in the ACC.
Final Score Prediction- Clemson 74 Duke 70