NEW YORK (AP) — Luke Kennard had an ugly first half, and Duke leaned on freshmen Jayson Tatum and Frank Jackson to build a double-digit lead against Clemson.
Then the Tigers rallied, and Kennard put down the uprising.
Kennard made two clutch jumpers in the final 2:04 and No. 14 Duke beat Clemson 79-72 on Wednesday to advance to the Atlantic Coast Conference quarterfinals.
The fifth-seeded Blue Devils (24-8) will play fourth-seeded and No. 8 Louisville on Thursday at Barclays Center.
Kennard, the ACC’s leading scorer, went 1 for 9 from the field in the first half and 8 for 11 in the second to finish with 20 points.
“I think that’s a heck of a performance when a player it isn’t going and then it goes that shows you’re a different player. You’re a special player when you’re able to do that,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Tatum and Jackson each scored 20 and picked up the slack while Kennard was cold.
Jaron Blossomgame led Clemson (17-15) with 19 points and eight rebounds.
Duke built a 13-point lead midway through the second half but could not put away Clemson. Marcquise Reed converted a 3-point play with 2:51 left to cut Duke’s lead to 69-68 and get the small contingent of Tigers fans in Barclays, plus any Duke haters in the crowd, pumped up.
Kennard answered with a jumper to push the lead back to three. He dropped in a fallaway from the baseline with 1:14 left to up the lead to 75-70.
“The biggest thing I can take away from this is how much confidence my coaches, my teammates, they have in me,” Kennard said. “They continue to tell me to be aggressive.”
Clemson: The Tigers came into the game having lost 10 games by six points or fewer, including a two-point loss to Duke during the regular season. File another one under missed opportunities for Clemson. The Tigers were 24 for 26 from the foul line, but didn’t make enough shots to answer Duke’s proficient offense.
Duke: With Grayson Allen nursing a sore ankle and coming off the bench at the end of the season, Jackson has played his best ball since the nonconference schedule. He had averaged 17.6 points per game in the last three regular-season games.
Jackson gives Duke a true point guard instead of Krzyzewski having to force Allen in at the point. The Blue Devils also got some sharp low-post passing from Tatum, who had four assists against Clemson.
Coach K said his team is still searching for an identity.
“Crazy as it may sound, I think we’re still evolving because of all the injuries and interruptions that we’ve had. But we’re getting better,” Krzyzewski said. “I don’t know who we are completely, but I have good kids. I have really good kids, and they play hard, and they share the ball. Maybe we’ll develop a little bit more of an identity here. We’ve got another chance, let’s put it that way.”
ALLEN T’D UP
Allen was called for a technical foul for a second straight game when he slammed the ball on the floor after getting called for a loose ball foul.
He was whistled for running into Blossomgame. Allen grabbed the bouncing ball as he moved toward the corner of the court on the opposite side of the benches. He then slammed the ball down in obvious anger and was hit with a technical, giving him three personal fouls. His next stop was the bench.
Allen, who was suspended for a game earlier this season for tripping an opponent for the third time in his career, said he probably deserved the technical and that he didn’t think he was being targeted by officials.
Allen received a technical in the season finale against North Carolina on Saturday for throwing an elbow. Allen finished scoreless and 0 for 4 from the field against Clemson, playing a season-low 12 minutes. He said his ankle is improving.
“I just need to play better,” he said.
Clemson: The Tigers hope to get an NIT bid.
“We won six (ACC) games. We probably needed to win eight or 10,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said about getting into the NCAAs. “That’s obviously why today’s game was so important for our team. If we could have got today’s game, then I think we have a better chance, and then maybe one more.”
Duke: The Blue Devils lost their only meeting with Louisville this season, falling 78-69 on the road.