The reigning National Champions, the Duke Blue Devils rolled into Greensboro this afternoon clearly determined to even their season record with their rivals from Chapel Hill, win another ACC tournament championship game and solidify a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. They did all three in an impressive fashion.
Executing effectively in every major part of the game – shooting, rebounding and defense – Duke made it look easy while North Carolina struggled from horn to horn. The Blue Devils proved yet again that when they shoot well and get all five players involved in their offense, they’re a tough out.
Duke took an early lead as the Tar Heels again got off to a dreadfully slow start. In the second half, North Carolina cut the 14 point halftime lead to nine, but Duke, unlike Miami or Clemson, didn’t blink and immediately put the lead was back to double digits.
Seniors Nolan Smith had 20 points and Kyle Singler added 11 points for the Blue Devils (30-4), who led the entire way for a record 19th tournament title. They won their third straight tournament and their 10th in 13 years, the latest sign of just how seriously they have approached this event over the years.
The game pitted the last two NCAA National Champions against one another.
Now the Blue Devils can focus on the NCAAs again, where they claimed yet another No. 1 seed. Duke, the top seed in the West Regional, will begin play 16th-seeded Hampton on Friday in Charlotte.
Only a week ago, North Carolina (26-7) handled Duke with relative ease in a winner-take-all game for the outright regular-season title. This time, in the first finals meeting between the rivals in a decade, second-seeded Duke led by 18 points in the first half and never let the Tar Heels get close to a third straight tournament escape.
North Carolina had rallied from 19 down in the final 10 minutes to beat Miami on a last-play layup in the quarterfinals, then rallied from 14 down to force overtime and beat Clemson in the semifinals. This time, the Tar Heels got no closer than nine after halftime.
Smith was named tournament MVP after overcoming a jammed toe in the quarterfinals against Maryland and finishing with 10 assists, while Singler played better after struggling mightily in the two regular-season meetings. In addition, the supporting cast that pulled a no-show in last week’s 81-67 loss backed them up this time.
Seth Curry had 20 in that game and added 11 in this one, including a 3-pointer after the Tar Heels had pulled to within nine. Ryan Kelly added another 3 a few minutes later helped silence North Carolina’s last-gasp push and finished with nine points.
|Zeller, Kelly and a Plumlee|
Kelly, Plumlee and Miles Plumlee combined for 24 points on 11-for-16 shooting against North Carolina’s powerful front line which had nine points on 4-for-15 shooting in the loss.
Duke shot 62 percent in the first half and 50 percent for the game. The Blue Devils also shut down North Carolina’s transition offense behind Smith, who harassed point guard Kendall Marshall so much that Williams yanked the normally steady freshman twice in the first 7 1/2 minutes.
Harrison Barnes struggled to get going a day after scoring a tournament freshman record 40 points, finishing with 16. Tyler Zeller had 14 points while John Henson added 10 points and 18 rebounds, but North Carolina shot 34 percent and never looked like the team that had won 19 of 21 games.