Photo courtesy of Duke University Athletics.
By David Cordova
Championship games have a certain mystique to them. Those are the big games that everyone waits and longs for. This week’s ACC Tournament is no exception. Over four days of great basketball, many teams came and went but only two teams remained when all was said and done.
The battle between the Duke Blue Devils, the No. 5 seed, faced a tough road, as they dispatched teams such as Clemson in the second round, Louisville in the quarterfinals and their hated rivals from a few miles away, North Carolina in the semifinal game. Their opponents, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the No. 3 seed, faced a somewhat easier road, as they had a bye all the way into the quarterfinals, in which they would beat Virginia and then tough Florida State team in the semifinals.
In last night’s game, throughout most of the game, it resembled a chess match, as both teams would take advantage of each other’s weaknesses. At one point, Notre Dame reigned supreme and looked as if they would win the game, but in the second half, Duke made all the necessary offensive plays needed to win, and as a result, would win the school’s 20th ACC championship in school history and the 14th under head coach and Hall of Famer Mike Kryzyzewski, and became the first team to win four games in four days in to win the championship, as well as the first-seeded team to win the ACC title.
Only on championship night do great things happen.
Duke 75, Notre Dame 69
The beginning of the game started out in favor of the Blue Devils, as they would run out to an 8-2 lead, with 16:55 to go in the first half, after consecutive baskets by graduate student Amile Jefferson. But the Fighting Irish would counter with three-pointers from junior Bonzie Colson and senior V.J. Beachem to bring them within 10-8, with 14:25 to go.
Moments later, Duke would go on a 12-7 run, highlighted by a couple of dunks by freshmen Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles III, as they would end up leading, 22-15, with 9:32 to go in the first half. Although Notre Dame would stay close by, 22-18, after a three-pointer by senior Steve Vasturia, with 8:45 left, the Blue Devils would raise their lead up to nine, 27-18, with 7:48 to go.
The Fighting Irish wouldn’t stay down for long, as they would get within five, 33-28, after a floater by Matt Farrell, with 2:24 left in the half. Both teams would battle it out for the last couple of minutes as the Fighting Irish would get to within two points, 36-34, with six seconds left, after five consecutive points from Colson. But just before the end of the half, junior Grayson Allen would hit a buzzer-beater to send Duke into halftime with a four-point lead, 38-34.
Notre Dame came out energized in the second half, as they scored two consecutive baskets to tie the score at 38-38 with 18:28 to go. Throughout the next few minutes, it became a duel between both teams as they would trade basket for basket and possessions were not taken lightly. But then six consecutive points by Colson would bring Notre Dame ahead by five, 51-46, with 13:01 to go. Their lead would then go up to eight, 56-48, with 11:35 to go after a Beachem dunk.
Duke would make a comeback of their own, as Jefferson made two baskets to bring the deficit to within four, 56-52, with 9:46 to go. Another Jefferson layup would give the Blue Devils the one-point lead, 59-58, with 6:09 to go. But then later on, Colson would hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 65-65, with 2:27 to go.
Then on the other end, Tatum would make a free throw and a layup to bring the lead to three, 68-65, with 1:35 to go. Fighting Irish junior Matt Farrell would cut the deficit to one, 68-67 with 1:15 to go. On the next trip down the other end, Duke senior Matt Jones would hit a three-pointer with 48 seconds left to bring the score to 71-67. Then with 25.4 seconds left, Tatum would make a three-point play, to bring the score up five, 74-69. That would then be all Duke would need to win the ACC championship.
Tatum led Duke with 19 points and eight rebounds, Kennard added 16 points and Jefferson added 14 points and five rebounds. For Notre Dame, Colson added 29 points and nine rebounds, Vasturia added 15 points and Farrell contributed 13 points and seven assists in the loss.