Plenty of heroes for Duke in opening win over Clemson

Duke's Zion Williamson (1) dunks during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Clemson in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019. Duke won 87-68. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

With 12:25 remaining in Duke’s win over Clemson on Saturday night, Zion Williamson stripped the ball from an unsuspecting Tiger at midcourt, and Cameron Indoor Stadium held its breath in anticipation.

The freshman big man had a clear path to the basket and didn’t disappoint, soaring and spinning for a resounding 360-degree slam dunk.

“Once I got the steal, I looked back to see if anybody was there,” Williamson recalled. “Nobody was there, and it was just poetry in motion. Float in the air and at the last second you just punch it, and the crowd just goes into a frenzy. I love it.”

The crowd reaction was explosive. A decibel-meter smart phone app reached 107.7—the equivalent of running a chainsaw or driving a snowmobile. Had a decibel meter been placed in the ESPN booth, near Dick Vitale, it likely would have hit even more damaging levels.

The rest of the team was good-naturedly stingy with its praise of the dunk, however.

“I’ve seen guys do that,” coach Mike Krzyzewski, who sat, stone-faced, while the arena celebrated post-dunk, said. “I’m not amazed at that stuff. He can do that. So let him do it. We allow him to do it.”

“I’d give him a seven, maybe an eight,” RJ Barrett said. Barrett then approached Williamson’s locker and told his teammate, “If you want a ten, go between your legs and dunk. Then you’ll get a ten.”

The play was certainly the most memorable one in the Blue Devil’s 87-68 win over the Tigers in both team’s ACC opener, but Williamson’s round-the-world dunk was far from the only reason for Duke’s lopsided win over a veteran Clemson team.

Tre Jones: The freshman point guard had a quietly efficient game, as has been the case all season. Jones finished with 10 points, nine assists and no turnovers. It’s the fourth time this season that Jones has had at least seven assists without a turnover, tying Duke’s career record in that category in just under half a season.

“Just being able to hand out assists, all the credit goes to my teammates,” Jones said. “They make it a lot easier for me. I’m just trying to set them up to be successful and they’re able to make plays out of it, so they definitely make me look good, and they make my job a lot easier. This is what I’ve been looking forward to my entire life. It’s been my dream to play at Duke, so now that I’m here, I’m just trying to do it to the best of my abilities.”

Jack White: Duke’s co-captain came off the bench to spark the team during a tight first half. Clemson’s physical play was new to the Duke freshman, playing in their first-ever conference game. Cam Reddish, in particular, struggled, turning the ball over six times, struggling with his shot and getting in foul trouble.

White picked up the slack, hitting four-of-six on three pointers with two steals, six rebounds and a pair of blocks, including one on a slam dunk attempt that sparked a fast-break dunk.

“I’m not afraid of getting dunked on,” White said of his willingness to take the risk on the block.

In a game that eventually became a blowout, two of White’s three-pointers gave Duke the lead, one doubled Duke’s three-point lead, and one extended the lead to 10.

“Jack White has been the unsung hero of our team,” Krzyzewski said.

“as Coach K calls him, he’s the glue to our defense,” Williamson said. “Jack can guard the best perimeter player and guard the best post player, and he just comes in and he’s strong. He tries to get every rebound. Having a captain like that who comes off the bench and doesn’t have a problem with it, that’s somebody I want to go into war with. I just have so much respect for Jack because he always comes in and he does what we need to do.”

Duke’s defense: The Blue Devils suffocated Clemson to start the second half, sparking a 14-0 run coming out of the locker room to break open the game. Duke finished with 13 turnovers.

“We’re playing good defense,” Krzyzewski said. “We forced 19 turnovers. They had seven points in the second half for a long period of time. We’re playing really good defensively. Tre was all over the place, back tapping, diving for balls. Our guys are playing hard. If you play hard and with the athletic ability we have, we’re going to play good defense, and we are playing good defense.”

The performance took the heart of Clemson, causing coach Brad Brownell call out the Tigers.

“Just really disappointed in my team,” he said. “Second half, we just gave in.”