By TOM SHANAHAN
Clemson’s Brad Brownell sounded like a coach fully aware bad timing awaited his basketball team in Durham.
He was right.
Duke’s 26-point victory was its largest margin of the year, defeating Clemson 79-53 on Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The last thing struggling Clemson needed was to encounter a young Blue Devils roster “coached up” by a Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K has a spring in his step – watch the 73-year-old enthusiastically slap hands with his players — like he’s reaching back to his younger days. A time when he built his third Army team into a 19-9 season with a 1978 NIT trip or his fourth Duke team that went 24-10 to earn his first NCAA bid with the Blue Devils.
“Coach K had them really ready to play,” Brownell said after the game. “They had some time to get ready. They had a plan in place. They guarded us well. The kids played with confidence. I said before the game that I thought they looked like a team that is improving and playing their best basketball and they did that today.”
Duke’s second straight ACC win lifted the Blue Devils to 7-5 overall and 5-3 in conference, tied for fifth with Louisville. Duke had lost three in a row before the wins over Georgia Tech and Clemson but now faces a quick turnaround to chase its third straight win again Miami () at 7 p.m. Monday in Coral Gables.
“We’re not this outstanding team,” Krzyzewski said. “We’re a good team with great kids who are trying to get through this whole thing without the experience of a fall and a nonconference. With a younger team, it’s going to take time. They may never develop because you could lose confidence. Our guys are continuing to work hard and hopefully we can continue that against Miami on Monday.”
Brownell doesn’t have Duke on its remaining regular-season schedule, but the bad timing isn’t over for the Tigers (10-5, 4-5 ACC).
Another Hall-of-Famer “coaching up” his unranked blue blood program is surging North Carolina (11-5, 6-3 ACC). The Tar Heels face the Tigers at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Littlejohn Arena.
UNC coach Roy Williams’ team, which dropped its first two ACC outings, is finding its identity by pounding the ball inside to their big men. Ol’ Roy’s Tar Heels won 75-65 Tuesday at Pitt for their third in a row and sixth of seven.
“There are a lot of things that please me but there’s no way in the world I’m going to say we’ve turned a corner.” Williams said. “I mean we are getting a little bit better and the day that we — if we’re lucky enough in this lifetime or my next one — that we’re playing for the national championship, I’ll tell somebody, ‘yeah we’ve turned a corner we’re pretty good.”
Duke and North Carolina will test their momentum against each other when they meet in the first of their two rivalry games, at 6 p.m. Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Meanwhile, N.C. State (7-6, 3-5 ACC), plagued by injuries and COVID-19 protocol interruptions, lost for the fifth time in a six league games Sunday night to Syracuse (10-5, 4-4 ACC) at the Carrier Dome. The Wolfpack played their first game without redshirt senior guard Devin Daniels, their leading scorer at 16.5 points a game. He suffered a season-ending knee injury, torn ligaments, in a win on Wednesday over Wake Forest (5-7, 2-7 ACC).
“I’m gutted and heartbroken for Devon,” Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “Devon joined our program shortly after I was named head coach, and I quickly appreciated the tenacity and relentlessness he brought into the gym every day. Devon built himself into one of the premier players in the ACC and with that tireless work ethic, I have no doubt that he will attack his rehab and come back even stronger. I hope all N.C. State fans will join me in praying for Devon and a swift recovery.”
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