Clemson was in the midst of making Duke’s life uncomfortable, having cut what was a 13-point Blue Devils lead to six points with a little less than 2 minutes remaining when Austin Rivers threw up a difficult 3-pointer with some 15 seconds left on the shot clock.
Rivers’ 3-point attempt missed badly, and the Tigers came down the court and scored on a jumper by K.J. McDaniels to close within four points.
Duke went on to win Sunday’s game 73-66, of course, but Rivers’ attempt provides insight into the freshman’s mindset.
He’s confident enough not only to take a tough, contested 3-pointer with plenty of time left on the shot clock in a close game but also believe he was going to make it.
When the shots don’t fall, on the other hand, it can make Rivers look impatient and overly optimistic in his own abilities.
In recent weeks, the majority of Rivers’ attempts haven’t found the bottom of the net. Since a 20-point effort in Duke’s win over Western Michigan, Rivers has averaged 8.6 points per game while only shooting 36.4 percent from the floor and 21.4 percent for 3-pointers.
He still leads all ACC freshmen as well as the Blue Devils in scoring (13.8 points per game), which is one of the reasons why Rivers has his self-confidence.
Yet he seems to be in a bit of a rut.
“I just think he’s going through what a freshman goes through,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “There’s adjustments to everything. Overall, he’s done it really well.
“There’s adjustments to more physicality, speed, height, experience. There’s not one adjustment – all freshmen have to go through it. He’s done it fairly well to average about 14 points per game with the schedule we’ve had. He has to continue to make those adjustments.”
After Duke’s win over Western Michigan on Dec. 30, Krzyzewski praised the Blue Devils’ depth before stressing that it’s “better” to have some separation among the players in the regular rotation.
At the time, Rivers seemed as likely a candidate as anyone on the team to provide such separation.
That hasn’t happened over the last two-plus weeks, and Krzyzewski seems to have adjusted his assessment of the benefits of having a go-to player or two for this year’s bunch.
“I think you have to be flexible in the group that you have,” Krzyzewski said. “The group we have is 15-2 and overall is doing a really good job without just having one or two guys like (Kyle) Singler and Nolan Smith lead you.
“We have to be flexible in how we bring a team like this along like we have been and will continue to be unless we see an emergence of consistent excellence by a few guys or one guy.”