GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) Miss after miss, open look after open look, yet Jon Scheyer ignored them all.
He wasn’t going to stop shooting, not with an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship on the line and fourth-ranked Duke clinging to a one-point lead in the final seconds. He curled around a screen, took a pass and launched a 3-pointer that dropped perfectly through the net.
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“It just wasn’t falling,” Scheyer said, “but at the end of the games, I felt confident.”
Scheyer finished with 16 points along with that critical 3 with 18 seconds left to help Duke hold off Georgia Tech 65-61 in Sunday’s final, giving the Blue Devils a record 18th ACC championship and setting them up to receive the No. 1 seed in the South Regional of the NCAA tournament.
Kyle Singler scored 20 points and earned MVP honors for the top-seeded Blue Devils (29-5), who blew most of an 11-point lead with 6 minutes left before Scheyer’s big shot. Nolan Smith also had 16 points to help Duke break a tie with rival North Carolina for the most ACC tournament titles, while giving Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski his 12th title to move within one of Dean Smith for the most in league history.
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 ran out to an 8-0 lead in the opening minutes and led the entire day, but in the end, Scheyer’s composure took over when the game hung in the balance.
“There’s something about Scheyer that produces wins,” Krzyzewski said. “I’ve loved coaching him because he has this spirit. He’s never afraid and I admire that because as a player I’m not sure I had that all the time. I’m not sure many players have it all the time, but Jon has it and it’s a beautiful thing.”
He missed his first six 3-pointers before finally knocking one down to give the Blue Devils a 52-41 lead with about 6 minutes left, and stood at 1-for-8 when the Yellow Jackets ran off nine straight points to get within 60-59 on Derrick Favors’ dunk with 47.9 seconds left.
But as the Blue Devils ran the clock down, Scheyer lost Glen Rice Jr. around a screen from Brian Zoubek, took a pass from Smith and confidently launched the 3 from the right side. He even held his extended right arm in the air throughout the ball’s flight before it dropped through the net to send the crowd into a roar.
“I knew it was nothing but the bottom,” fellow senior Lance Thomas said. “I didn’t even go for the rebound.”
Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt could only tip his hat to Scheyer.
“If you’re a basketball fan, enjoy it for what it is,” Hewitt said. “I told him after the game – I said, ‘That’s a hell of a shot you just made.’ If he misses that, we’re winning the basketball game, because we’re getting the rebound – it’s going to come out long – and we’re going to score.”
Instead, 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 shot just 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 Zoubek as the Blue Devils began their oncourt celebration.
“We just need to get refreshed and wherever we’re going to go, we’ll go,” Krzyzewski said of the NCAA tournament, “but I think we’ll go there better than we were a week ago.”
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.
By Sunday’s final, Duke fans had gobbled up plenty of tickets from fans whose schools had lost, putting plenty of royal blue in the seats and creating a homecourt advantage for a team playing about an hour’s drive west of its Durham campus to make Georgia Tech’s job even tougher.
Favors had 22 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Yellow Jackets, who did enough to take care of their once-shaky NCAA tournament prospects after losing five of seven to close the regular season. They received the No. 10 seed in the Midwest Regional.
Georgia Tech was trying to become the lowest-seeded team to win the tournament and they hadn’t won it since capping a similar run as a No. 6 seed under Bobby Cremins by upending top-seeded and eventual national champion North Carolina in the 1993 final. Cremins, now the coach at College of Charleston, sat behind the Georgia Tech bench for this one only to see the Yellow Jackets fall short of matching their ’93 run.
“We’re proud of what we did this tournament,” Georgia Tech junior Gani Lawal said, “but we’re just sad that we couldn’t pull it out.”