Kihei Clark, with six first-half threes, forced Duke to change its game plan
Virginia dominated Duke in the paint in its 69-68 win two weeks ago. Mike Krzyzewski was willing to give Kihei Clark open shots to keep the ‘Hoos out of the lane.
The game plan didn’t count on Clark hitting six first-half threes.
“Clark had a heck of a game. He’s as good of a guard as there is in the league. The shooting performance he put on in that first half – we had to change our defense,” Krzyzewski said, a few minutes after initiating a conversation with Clark, who had a career-high 25 points and seven assists, in the postgame handshake line.
It wasn’t enough, as Duke fought its way to a hard-earned 65-61 win, but that wasn’t because Clark didn’t play his 5’9”-ish tail off.
“He kept us in it,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said, in a nominee for understatement of the year, considering that Clark had 18 points, on six threes, and two assists in the first half, accounting for 22 of Virginia’s 25 points in the opening 20 minutes.
“I think Reece [Beekman] did a really good job of trying to get me the ball. Some timely ones in transition. My teammates were just looking for me, and I thought we did a good job moving the ball. I think our movement was good which freed me up a little bit. I don’t know, they were going in, so I just kept shooting,” Clark said.
Two of the makes were in transition, which got his coach’s attention during a timeout.
“He shot a pull-up three, and I told him, ‘If you’re going to do that, you better make it,’” Bennett joked afterward.
Virginia native Jeremy Roach, who chose Duke over Virginia two years ago, had the responsibility of trying to check Clark most of the night.
“They run a great offense. They run it to the core, they’re very fundamental. I think all the screen actions, all the screening pairs that they have – there’s so many different actions that they can do, that’s kind of what makes it tough,” said Roach, who had 13 points in 32 minutes off the bench for Duke.
As Krzyzewski acknowledged, he had to change his defensive game plan at halftime, deciding to switch on screens to make sure that Clark didn’t have daylight from behind the arc.
What that did was open back up the driving and passing lanes in the mid-range and the paint.
Clark adjusted well. After a first half with six threes, he was a playmaker in the second half, with seven points and five assists, getting Jayden Gardner, who had just two points at the half, but took advantage of the openings in the lane to score 14 in the second half, involved in a big way.
So, what did Coach K tell Clark in the handshake line?
“He said I was one of the best guards [in the ACC], and just said good job and good play,” Clark said. “It’s pretty cool. Coach K is one of the top coaches, so who he is and for him to say that, to me felt good.”
Story by Chris Graham