DURHAM — Early in the first half, Duke found itself in an unexpected dogfight with Clemson.
Facing a Tigers team that had lost four of its last six games, Duke saw its top player, freshman Paolo Banchero, sent to the bench with two early fouls. Freshman Trevor Keels was already not playing due to an injury that has kept him out more than a week. That forced coach Mike Krzyzewski to look to his bench.
“That’s how you win,” Krzyzewski explained, “when other people step up.”
The Blue Devils got five points from little-used Bates Jones, a Davidson transfer who had scored just 21 all season. Jones logged nine first-half minutes in place of Banchero, matching his total for Duke’s last six games. His point total matched his scoring for the last eight.
Senior Joey Baker also stepped up, hitting his first three attempts from 3-point range and scoring nine of his 11 points in the game’s first half.
“The two kids that kept us in the game were Joey and Bates,” Krzyzewski said.
The contributions helped Duke go into the half tied with Clemson, and the game remained tied until less than three minutes remained, when a third unsung hero emerged for the Blue Devils.
Point guard Jeremy Roach, reinserted into the starting lineup after the Keels injury, played all 40 minutes in the game and had nine assists with just one turnover. His shot hadn’t been falling, however, as the sophomore was just 1 of 6 on the night.
Roach hit his last two attempts — a 3-pointer and a pull-up jumper. The first gave Duke the lead, the second tied the game once more. Roach also pulled down a rebound to set up a Baker floater that gave the Blue Devils the lead to stay.
“He’s good,” Krzyzewski said of Roach. “He was playing off the ball because Wendell (Moore) was out there (running the offense). Trevor being out put him back on top. He probably wants to stay on top.”
He’s certainly making a case for it. In the four games since Keels has been injured, Roach has 28 assists against just three turnovers.
“He was really strong,” Coach K said. “In addition to that, hitting those two shots after all that ball pressure. He’s tough mentally.”
Clemson’s physical defense made the going tough all game for the Blue Devils. That might be what helped set the stage for the bench players’ heroics.
“They knocked us back,” Krzyzewski said. “Bates and Joey, they’re older. They’ve been in physical games. They’re able to deal with that. In the second half, we adjusted to that level.”
Banchero returned in the second half to score a game-high 19 points. Mark Williams added a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, and Moore scored 13. While the usual headliners ended up with impressive stats, the key to a gritty win over Clemson came down to three less-heralded Blue Devils.
“The big thing tonight,” Krzyzewski said, “was Joey, Bates and Jeremy.”