Tatum matched a season high with 22 points, scoring nine in the final 4½ minutes, and Duke held on to beat Boston College 93-82 on Saturday in Capel's season debut as Mike Krzyzewski's temporary replacement.
Grayson Allen had 12 points and 11 assists, and the Blue Devils had six double-figure scorers in winning their first game at Cameron Indoor Stadium without Coach K since 1995. Krzyzewski had back surgery Friday and is expected to miss roughly four weeks.
The Blue Devils (14-2, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) shot 55 percent but blew most of a 25-point lead, with the Eagles chipping away over the final 10 minutes and pulling to 88-82 on Ky Bowman's reverse layup with 44.1 seconds left.
"I told them that we're going to be OK, I told them to relax and let's get back to doing what we did earlier in the game to build the lead," Capel said. "We had to get stops. ... We have to move on to the next play."
BC followed that with three straight empty possessions while Tatum hit four free throws in the final 42 seconds to put Duke back up by double figures.
Jerome Robinson had 21 points and Bowman scored 19 for BC (8-8, 1-2).
This closer-than-expected victory capped an eventful week at Duke that started with the announcement that Krzyzewski was taking a leave of absence to have a fragment of a herniated disk removed from his back, and included the end of Allen's indefinite suspension. Then there was the transition to Capel, a former Duke guard who at age 41 is already a coaching veteran.
"It was different," Capel said. "I'd be lying if I said it wasn't, but it was exciting, and it was exciting because these are our guys and that's what I'm about."
For 30 minutes, the Blue Devils looked much like the same team that beat Georgia Tech by 53 points three nights earlier. Then they went cold while the Eagles reeled off 11 straight points down the stretch.
"We stopped defending in the second half, and we got into a game of `Who's Going to Outscore Each Other?" Allen said. "We can't rely on our offense."
BIG PICTURE Duke: The Blue Devils started the game with their healthiest roster of the season. And then forward Amile Jefferson left in the first half with what Capel said was a right foot or ankle injury. He returned to the bench, still in uniform, midway through the second half but did not play again. The fifth-year senior missed the final three months of last season with a broken right foot.
Boston College: There's no doubt the Eagles are improving -- a week and a half into the ACC schedule, they have already won more league games than they did last season. They were able to cut into Duke's lead because they took better care of the basketball -- only five of their 17 turnovers came in the second half -- but one of them came after Bowman's layup made it a two-possession game.
"We're not taking any solace in cutting it to six," coach Jim Christian said. "If you want to win, you've got to make those plays."
TIP-INS Duke had 20 assists, giving the Blue Devils a two-game total of 44. They had a combined 15 in their previous two games. ... The Cameron Crazies howled with sarcastic anger in the final minute of the first half when BC's Garland Owens was called for a foul after -- ironically -- he tripped Allen. ... Seven of the eight Blue Devils who played scored at least nine points. ... Duke guard Luke Kennard had nine points, his first game this season with fewer than 10.
EMPTY SEATS The Duke coaching staff left the seat that's usually Krzyzewski's -- the third one from the left -- empty out of respect. "That's his seat," Capel said. "It's not like he's not coming back."
That wasn't the only empty one at Cameron: The crowd ranked as one of the sparsest in years because a severe winter storm pounded the region with snow and sleet. All the tickets were sold, as has been the case for every Duke home game since 1990.
UP NEXT Duke: The Blue Devils hit the road for two games next week, at No. 12 Florida State on Tuesday and No. 9 Louisville next Saturday.
Boston College: The Eagles play host to North Carolina State on Wednesday night.