BACK IN THE HUNT
With No. 7 Duke missing free throw after free throw and its healthy lead dwindling, the Blue Devils needed a statement play to show N.C. State there would be no miraculous comeback on Saturday.
Already on his way to being Duke’s leading scorer (20) and rebounder (eight), Jabari Parker gave the Blue Devils what they needed.
Parker literally ripped a rebound away from N.C. State’s T.J. Warren on a missed free throw, spun in the lane and dunked the ball to restore Duke’s double-digit lead with just over two minutes remaining.
Duke proceeded to finish off the Wolfpack 75-67 in an ACC Tournament semifinal at Greensboro Coliseum, earning its first trip to the ACC Tournament championship game in three years.
“That was the biggest play of the game,” Duke senior guard Tyler Thornton said. “We had missed I think five free throws in a row. That’s the point of game where things can turn around and the other team can get momentum. They can get a quick score and get into their press. But he just made a man’s play and scored it. That’s how we won the game.”
That was clearly a memorable play that turned things for Duke (26-7) in the final minutes. Duke’s defense, particularly in the second half, was also an overriding factor in the Blue Devils earning a shot at top-seeded and No.6-ranked Virginia in the ACC Tournament final today (1 p.m, WRAL/ESPN).
After N.C. State shot 66.7 percent in the first half, with Warren scoring 13 points, Duke limited the Wolfpack to 35. 5 percent in the second half. Warren, the Durham native who led the ACC in scoring (24.8 points) and won ACC player of the year, scored just eight points after halftime to finish at 21.
“In the first half I played on top of him and he got into me for baskets on a couple of backdoors,” said Duke forward Hood, whose primary defensive assignment was Warren. “He’s a great scorer but I wanted to stick to the game plan. My teammates helped me a lot and it was a great defensive game plan on him.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski credited Hood with not only his physical play but his mental approach to guarding Warren and stopping the Wolfpack (21-13).
“Rodney made a big adjustment,” Krzyzewski said. “You can overcoach. We overcoached our preparation. He was doing what we asked him to do and it wasn’t working. He said `Coach let me play him the normal way.’ That was better.”
After leading 39-38 at halftime, Duke proved itself the far better team over the final 20 minutes.
While N.C. State, fatigued by playing its third game in three days, made just 3 of its first 13 second-half shots, Duke chose to drive through the Wolfpack defense for higher-percentage shots.
Rasheed Sulaimon did that twice for baskets, Parker scored on a baseline move and added a dunk in transition Hood scored in the lane as Duke took a 49-45 lead. When Parker hit a fade-away jumper and Hood added a basket on a move through the lane with 10:42 to give Duke its first double-digit lead at 58-47.
N.C. State matched Duke basket-for-basket for the next two minutes before another scoring drought doomed the Wolfpack, N.C. State made just one shot over a five-minute stretch. Duke struggled at the free throw line, but when Quinn Cook sank a free toss with 3:59 left the Blue Devils had a 67-54 lead.
“I thought maybe we got tired in the second half,” Gottfried said. “We didn’t seem as fresh as we have been. The 3-point shooting, I thought, was a difference. They stepped up and made a number of them and we couldn’t seem to make any.”
Duke did sink seven 3-pointers while N.C. State made 2 of 14. But the Blue Devils’ horrid free throw shooting, particularly in the second half, let the Wolfpack keep the lead below double-digits for most of the final three minutes.
Duke made only 8 of 19 free throws in the second half. Between the 7:39 and 1:38 marks, Duke endured a stretch where it made only 2 of 9 free throws.
But it was after Hood missed the front end of a one-and-bonus that Parker grabbed the rebound from Warren for his slam dunk at 2:24. N.C. State never drew closer than six points the rest of the game.
That ensured that Duke, which hasn’t been in an ACC Tournament final since beating North Carolina 75-58 to win the 2011 league title, would get a chance to beat regular-season champion Virginia today.
“It’s an unbelievable opportunity to get to play for a championship against a great team,” Hood said. “We’ve battled all season, had some ups and downs. But to be in this position is just great. We feel good about our opportunity.”
|No. 7 DUKE 75, NC STATE 67|
Percentages: FG .491, FT .786.
3-Point Goals: 2-14, .143 (Turner 2-10, Lee 0-1, Lewis 0-1, Warren 0-2).
Team Rebounds: 0.
Blocked Shots: 2 (Anya, Vandenberg).
Turnovers: 7 (Warren 2, Turner 2, Barber, Lee, Lewis).
Steals: 4 (Warren 2, Freeman, Turner).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .571, FT .522.
3-Point Goals: 7-17, .412 (Cook 3-4, Hood 2-6, Sulaimon 1-3, Thornton 1-3, Parker 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 3.
Blocked Shots: 1 (Hood).
Turnovers: 6 (Parker 2, Hood, Thornton, Cook).
Steals: 4 (Jefferson 2, Parker, Thornton).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials_Bryan Kersey, Les Jones, Brian Dorsey.