GREENSBORO, N.C.—The ACC tournament title game didn't start the way Duke wanted—North Carolina led Duke 16-10 with 12:41 left in the first half. But the Blue Devils went on an 11-0 run and never trailed the rest of the way, taking home the ACC tournament title.
“We took some bad shots and missed those,” Tar Heel head coach Sylvia Hatchell said of her team’s first half slide. “We had a couple costly turnovers that led to quick and easy baskets for them.”
The top-seeded Blue Devils (30-2, 17-1 in the ACC) took complete control midway through the first half Sunday afternoon at the Greensboro Coliseum, leaving little chance for third-seeded North Carolina (28-6, 14-4) to claw its way back into the game. Duke knocked off the Tar Heels 92-73 to capture its eighth ACC tournament title in program history and third in the last four seasons.
The focal point of the Duke’s first half dominance was the play of its post players: junior forward Haley Peters and sophomore center Elizabeth Williams.
With the score knotted at 16, Peters stepped back and connected on a 3-pointer that gave Duke the lead it would never relinquish. She then found the ball in the post on consecutive plays for two more easy hoops. Peters finished the first half with nine points on 4-for-4 shooting.
“Haley was amazing because she had to deal with foul trouble and things like that, but she was so productive and she was always attacking and leading her team, which was very, very important to us,” said Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie.
Williams—a sophomore and two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year—made ACC history in the first half by blocking a shot in her 65th consecutive game, breaking the record once held by LaToya Pringle of North Carolina.
When not terrorizing Tar Heels in the post—she had three steals to go with two blocks—Williams was beating North Carolina on the block. She ended the game with 24 points on 8-of-16 shooting—including a perfect 8-for-8 from the charity stripe.
“[Williams] is long so you have to make fakes and try to get the person open in other ways because you can’t just throw it past her because she’s so long,” said Tar Heel guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt.
Williams, Peters and Alexis Jones earned All-ACC tournament first team honors. Jones was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Blue Devil guard Tricia Liston also earned a spot on the second team.
The second half was the freshman Jones’ time to shine. Jones has been brilliant for Duke since Co-ACC Player of the Year Chelsea Gray went down with a dislocated kneecap last month. After a 2-for-7 performance in the first half, Jones caught fire immediately upon coming out of the locker room.
“From what I can see [Duke is] probably a better team with Alexis Jones out there than with Chelsea Gray,” Hatchell said. “Alexis has done a great job.”
Jones hit 7-of-9 from the field in the second half while also providing stifling defense and tying the team lead in rebounding with eight, despite being the shortest player on the court most of the game. She ended the afternoon with 24 points and four steals.
“I think she’s done a great job,” Gray said of her understudy. “I’m really, really proud of her. She’s come a long way—definite improvement—so I just can’t be more happy with her right now.”
The North Carolina offense was unable to get comfortable throughout the contest. After a strong first half for senior center Waltiea Rolle in which she scored 10 points, she was held scoreless for the entirety of the second half.
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, who leads the Tar Heels in scoring with 15.1 points per game, was kept off the scoreboard in the first half, but finished with 25 points despite playing most of the way with four fouls.
With the ACC tournament championship in tow, Duke will now rest up in preparation for the NCAA tournament in two weeks. Still in contention for a No. 1 seed, the Blue Devils will learn their tournament matchup March 18.