Duke wasn't supposed to be the team from Tobacco Road playing in today's ACC tournament championship game at MCI Center. But after yesterday's 76-69 victory over North Carolina State in the semifinals, the Blue Devils can deliver a heavy dose of anguish to each of the other two teams from North Carolina.
If No. 3 seed Duke beats No. 5 seed Georgia Tech in the final, which would be the Blue Devils' sixth title in the last seven ACC tournaments, it would trump North Carolina's regular season championship. The Yellow Jackets upset the Tar Heels, 78-75, in yesterday's other semifinal. Also, a victory over Georgia Tech probably would give Duke a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, a seed that was supposed to belong to Wake Forest.
North Carolina State's Engin Atsur tried as hard as he could, but didn't stop Blue Devils junior guard J.J. Redick, right, who had 35 points.
(Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
"This group has really got heart," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said of his team, which has made eight straight ACC finals. "I'm not saying we're world beaters or anything. They've found ways to win ballgames and they haven't used excuses. They've overcome injuries, sickness and everything else."
Duke (24-5) overcame an eight-point deficit in the second half against the Wolfpack, largely because of the sensational shooting of guard J.J. Redick. The junior from Roanoke scored 35 points on 11-for-16 shooting and made 7 of 12 three-point attempts. His 35 points broke Duke's 50-year-old record of 34 points in an ACC tournament game, set by Ronnie Mayer against Virginia in 1955. Redick's seven three-pointers also were the most by a Blue Devils player in the tournament.
"J.J.'s performance was one of the best ever," Krzyzewski said.
Redick rebounded after missing 13 of 17 shots in Duke's 76-64 win over Virginia in Friday night's quarterfinals.
"I just think the biggest difference was that my shots went in," Redick said. "Yesterday, I thought I took good shots but they were a little bit rushed. I got into a good rhythm in the second half and I knew my team needed me to make some big shots. I just felt like I couldn't miss."
For a long while in the second half, Redick didn't miss. The Wolfpack (19-13) led 38-34 at halftime and then went ahead, 44-36, on guard Engin Atsur's three-pointer with 18 minutes 42 seconds to play. After a Duke timeout, Redick scored on a baseline jumper to make it 44-38. He added another jumper on Duke's next possession, and then senior point guard Daniel Ewing and Redick made consecutive three-pointers to put the Blue Devils back in front, 48-46, with 14:25 remaining.
With the Wolfpack leading 53-52 with less than 11 minutes left, Redick made three-pointers on three consecutive possessions to give the Blue Devils a 61-55 lead with 9:25 to go. His three-pointer with about four minutes left made it 71-61.
"We really were working hard" against Redick, Wolfpack Coach Herb Sendek said. "None of the shots came with us having our legs crossed and our hands behind our heads. We were giving great effort. To his credit, he moves continuously and they set a lot of screens for him. He needs no time or space to get his shot off. He has a lightning-quick release and it's aided by his size."
After N.C. State forward Ilian Evtimov and Atsur opened the second half with consecutive three-pointers to put the Wolfpack ahead, 44-36, Krzyzewski called a timeout with 18:36 left. He took out all-ACC forward Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph, and replaced them with reserves Reggie Love and David McClure, who are smaller and quicker. Williams and Randolph went back into the game with 14:45 left, and Redick put the Blue Devils ahead on the next possession.
"The turning point was when Reggie and David came in the game and everybody started feeding off their energy," Redick said.
Williams finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, after having only six points and no rebounds in the first half. Ewing scored 14 points and had 5 assists and 5 turnovers. The Blue Devils made three-pointers on at least three possessions in which they grabbed two offensive rebounds.
"We put ourselves in positions where we'd make a stop, but then we had to make a stop again and in some cases again," Sendek said.
Freshman Andrew Brackman led the Wolfpack with 13 points. The Wolfpack played without senior center Jordan Collins, who has a separated shoulder, and Tony Bethel, who missed his second game in a row with a strained groin.
By beating Florida State and upsetting No. 2 seed Wake Forest in the quarterfinals, the Wolfpack all but assured itself an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament.
"I think our play will speak for itself," Sendek said. "We've had a very strong finish and an excellent season. We feel very good about where we stand."