Updated 9:27 p.m.
CLEMSON, S.C. -- Having escaped with a tough 73-66 victory over Clemson Sunday night in Littlejohn Coliseum, Duke's Mason Plumlee looked across the locker room at teammate Andre Dawkins, whose 24-point performance included five 3-pointers, and spoke for his team and, perhaps, the Tigers, too.
"Oh man, he played great," Plumlee said. "He's been due for a breakout game. It was not just shooting but you saw him in the passing lanes...he did a pull-up on the rim (earning a technical foul after a dunk)...It's just so uplifting."
It was precisely what the Blue Devils (15-2, 3-0) needed.
Shortly after Duke's three-point victory over 16th-ranked Virginia Wednesday night, coach Mike Krzyzewski began contemplating the various challenges his team would face in Littlejohn Coliseum.
Part of it was knowing the Tigers (9-8, 1-2) would see it as an enormous opportunity to ignite their season. Another part was sensing his team might struggle in the aftermath of what he called "a huge win" over the Cavaliers. It was a potentially dangerous combination that caused Krzyzewski to reflect on conversations he's had with his mentor, former Indiana coach, Bob Knight about handling such a situation.
"For the last few days I feel like, besides Clemson, a huge opponent for us is human nature," Krzyzewski said. "Human nature (is) sometimes you biggest opponent."
That was why Krzyzewski wasted no time making changes when the game didn't start well for the Blue Devils. After surrendering two easy buckets in the first 90 seconds, Krzyzewski called timeout and brought his team to the bench. A moment later, down 6-0, Krzyzewski sent five substitutes in for his starting five.
It wasn't so much a message that moment but the continuation of one that began in Durham on Friday.
"I sent a message for two full days that if we didn't get started...we're going to find guys who are going to be tough and want to win. After about eight minutes, everybody wanted to fight and win," Krzyzewski said.
After trailing by nine early, Duke responded with a 15-2 run to regain the lead before Dawkins began to assert himself. When the junior guard closed the half with a pair of 3-pointers and two free throws to help Duke to a 32-28 lead at the break, Duke had found its footing.
"We talked about getting off to a good start here and it didn't really happen for us," said Seth Curry, who struggled from the field, making two of nine shots.
The last 30 minutes, Krzyzewski said, were good for the Blue Devils, who counter-punched every Clemson run. Finding its spots against the Tigers' 1-3-1 zone, Duke pushed the lead to 10 a couple of times, only to have the Tigers claw back.
Near the end, when Clemson had cut the deficit to four and the Littlejohn crowd was thundering, Dawkins nailed his final 3-pointer to hush the crowd and, essentially seal the victory.
"It seems like he's never going to miss," Curry said.
For Dawkins, it was his most productive offensive game since his 26-point against Michigan State in November. He had scored just 14 points in four games before scoring 10 points against Virginia. More importantly, Krzyzewski called Dawkins' performance against the Cavaliers his best defensive game at Duke.
What started at Cameron Indoor Stadium Wednesday night rolled into Clemson Sunday.
"It feels good," Dawkins said. "The last few games, my shot hasn't really been there but I've been getting in a lot of extra (practice) shots. Hopefully I can build on this. A lot of times I've had good games then fallen back a little."
Asked why he's struggled to sustain a streak of good play, Dawkins went back to what Krzyzewski had talked about following the Virginia game.
"Part of it is human nature," Dawkins said. "You get some success and you get complacent. That's what separates the great ones. They get some success and they want more."
Sorting through the Tigers' second tough ACC loss in four days (they lost by two at Boston College on Wednesday), Clemson coach Brad Brownell pointed to a 4-for-16 effort from 3-point range and a 10-for-20 effort from the foul line. He also pointed to Dawkins.
"It's pick your poison," Brownell said. "They have so many good players, it's hard to keep them all down...If (Dawkins) has a bad night, we win."
Photo: Duke guard Andre Dawkins smiles after hitting a 3-pointer in the second half against the Tigers. CHUCK LIDDY - email@example.com