Cavaliers claim title in Greensboro
As Amile Jefferson described why Duke was beaten 72-63 by Virginia in Sunday’s ACC championship, his voice quivered.
For the previous two grinding hours, the Blue Devils’ season-long quest for conquering their physical trembles was fully exposed by the hungry Cavaliers. Virginia (28-6) captured its first championship since 1976, denying Duke extension of its record to 20.
“They were tougher,” Jefferson said. “They fought, and they made the winning plays down the stretch. We would play to the end of the shot clock, and they’d get an offensive rebound and make the shot.”
Or get to the foul line. Or make a defensive stop on Duke on the other end. Or whatever it took.
“We kept talking about don’t get sped up,” said Virginia head coach Tony Bennett. “Make them guard you and make them earn it on the other end. That’s what they did. We had to earn this against that kind of team and that kind of program. That made it very gratifying.”
“I think they’re a helluva basketball team,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “They’ve had a great season, great kids, unselfish. They’re one of the best teams in the country. They’ve done that in a consistent manner.”
The Blue Devils (26-8) had glimpses of cohesiveness and firepower throughout the season. When they did, wins followed. Sunday, Virginia had all the qualities of a champion.
“We had a hard time finishing and getting to the foul line when we didn’t,” Krzyzewski said. “The heart of our team was great. Our kids played with great heart. So going forward into the NCAA Tournament, I think these three games have really helped us get on to another level.”
Senior Joe Harris was named MVP of the tournament, finishing with 15 points in the championship. Sophomore Malcolm Brogdon led the Cavs with 23 points, hitting 7 of 10 at the foul line. Sophomore reserve Anthony Gill of nearby High Point made 10 of 17 at the line scoring 12 points. Charlotte senior Akil Mitchell snared 15 rebounds.
Virginia was 25 of 38 at the foul line and made 5 of 12 from 3-point range. Duke was 7 of 11 at the line and 8 of 14 on 3-pointers. The teams combined to shoot a paltry 32 percent in the first half, which Virginia led 28-25, but warmed after intermission.
Freshman Jabari Parker missed 15 of his 24 shots, but led Duke with 23 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore Rodney Hood had 13 points and Jefferson 11.
Brogdon, Parker, N.C. State’s T.J. Warren and Pittsburgh’s Talib Zanna were also named first team all-tournament.
“We played hard,” said Duke sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon. “We fought hard. We didn’t finish the shots we normally make. Credit Virginia, they made the plays.
“It was a very physical game and they’re a good defensive team. But we got shots we wanted and didn’t hit them.”
Duke led briefly four times — never longer than the 31 seconds after its first bucket. Parker appeared poised to rescue Duke down the stretch, hitting four buckets with spinning moves off the baseline and driving from the elbows of the lane.
His last points, however, came with 6:46 to go for a 51-51 deadlock. He missed a driving layup and a putback against Mitchell’s guard with 4:29 to play trailing 53-51, and Mitchell cleaned up a Harris miss on the other end for a four-point lead.
“With a guy like that, so aggressive and so skilled, you have to be more on your toes,” Mitchell said.
When Harris’ 3-pointer with two minutes left sent the Cavalier faithful filling half the Greensboro Coliseum into delirium, Virginia was ahead 64-57 and the outcome inevitable.
Jefferson later assured Virginia’s national reputation shouldn’t be missed.
“They’re one of the best teams in the country,” Jefferson said. “They attack the glass, play defense and they’re physical.”
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