Kyle Singler scored 20 points and Jon Scheyer hit a critical 3-pointer with 18 seconds left to help No. 4 Duke beat Georgia Tech 65-61 in Sunday’s Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship game. Scheyer finished with 16 points for the top-seeded Blue Devils (29-5), who let an 11-point lead with 6 minutes left slip all the way to one before Scheyer’s big shot. Nolan Smith also had 16 points to help Duke earn a league-record 18th tournament title, breaking a tie with rival North Carolina.
In a tournament filled with upsets, it took a gritty effort from Duke‘s high-scoring "Big Three" to hold off a determined comeback from the seventh-seeded Yellow Jackets (22-12), who were trying to become the first team in tournament history to win four games in four days.
Duke has won nine of the past 12 ACC tournaments and was in prime position to grab a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
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Freshman Derrick Favors had 22 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Yellow Jackets, who were trying to become the lowest-seeded team to win the tournament. Georgia Tech fell behind 8-0 and trailed 52-41 after Scheyer’s 3-pointer with 6:19 to play. But the Yellow Jackets ran off nine straight points to get within 60-59 on Favors’ dunk with 47.9 seconds left.
But Scheyer – who was just 1 of 8 from behind the arc to that point – lost Glen Rice Jr. around a screen and swished a 3 from the right side to push the lead back to four points. Then, after a driving basket from Iman Shumpert, Singler knocked down two free throws with 9 seconds left to make it a two-possession game and essentially seal the victory.
It was fitting that Duke punctuated the game at the free throw line. The Blue Devils made 24 of 28 free throws, including 21 of 23 in the second half to offset a 6-of-22 (27 percent) shooting performance after the break and keep the Yellow Jackets in catch-up mode almost all game.
Singler was named MVP despite shooting 3 of 15 from the field, though he did make 14 of 16 free throws – the 14 were a championship-game record – and finished with six rebounds. He had a nasty red scratch about 4 inches long on the back of his right shoulder, the result of diving over a courtside table for a loose ball, almost landing on Dick Vitale and ending up on the floor between press-row tables late in the first half.
When the horn sounded, Singler leapt into the arms of Smith for a hug near the sideline, than ran to hug senior Brian Zoubek as the Blue Devils began their oncourt celebration.
In many ways, it had to be a relief considering everything that had gone on in Greensboro this week.
The Blue Devils were the only one of the top six seeds to make it to the semifinals in a tournament that had seen a bevy of ugly, low-scoring games in a Greensboro Coliseum that had numerous rows of empty green seats in the upper level from tipoff of Thursday’s games.
The Yellow Jackets hadn’t won the tournament in 17 years, when they capped a similar run as a No. 6 seed under Bobby Cremins by upending top-seeded and eventual national champion North Carolina in the final. They had reached the finals only twice since, the last time a loss to the Blue Devils five years ago.
Cremins, now the coach at College of Charleston, sat behind the Georgia Tech bench for this one. But the Yellow Jackets couldn’t match their ’93 run, falling behind early and failing to get closer than four points until that frantic final minute.
At least Georgia Tech probably took care of its shaky NCAA tournament prospects. It entered Greensboro on the bubble after losing five of seven to close the regular season.