The third-seeded Blue Devils fell to top-seeded Virginia 72-63 Sunday at the Greensboro Coliseum in the championship game of the ACC tournament. With the loss, Duke extends its ACC tournament title drought to three years.
"We weren't able to make the plays that win championships," sophomore forward Amile Jefferson said. "Knowing that we were so close. I still haven't won a championship. That hurts. That hurts a lot, knowing that you were right there."
Shooting just 38.1 percent on the game, Duke (26-8) left enough opportunities at the rim to allow Virginia (28-6) to do what it does best—play with a lead. Boasting one of the nation's most disciplined offenses and physical defenses, the Cavaliers have a knack for making a two-point lead feel like 20.
"We just didn't finish. The shots that we normally make, we didn't finish," sophomore guard Rasheed Sulaimon said. "We got the shots that we wanted but we just didn't finish at a high percentage."
With the teams knotted at 53-53 down the stretch, Virginia pulled away with a 6-0 run thanks to a backdoor cut by first-team All-ACC selection Malcolm Brogdon, a tip-in by forward Akil Mitchell and a pair of free throws by Anthony Gill. That was all the Cavaliers would need to capture their first ACC tournament title since 1981.
The Blue Devils were able to cut the lead to as few as four points with 1:28 remaining, but a flurry of late free throws allowed Virginia to widen its advantage and preserve the victory.
Playing what could be the last ACC game of his collegiate career, Jabari Parker overcame a slow start to take over the second half. The freshman from Chicago finished the game with 23 points and eight rebounds. Parker's aggressiveness was on display throughout, consistently taking on defenders to get to the rim for buckets, but after starting the second half 6-for-8 he finished the game just 1-for-6 down the stretch.
"He carried us," Sulaimon said. "Jabari is a special, special talent. And what you have to love about him is that when the time arises, he always steps up to the big-time occasion."
The game started out as a defensive struggle, with Duke hitting just three of its first 19 attempts from the floor and Virginia going more than eight minutes in the first half without a field goal. Both teams began to find their shooting stroke near the end of the period, trading triples to send the Cavaliers into the locker room with a 28-25 advantage.
The Blue Devils struggled with foul trouble throughout the contest, with all five starters either fouling out or finishing with four fouls. Ultimately, the Cavaliers took 38 attempts at the free-throw line to Duke's 11, but Virginia kept the Blue Devils in the game by shooting just 65.8 percent at the charity stripe.
"It was little ticky tack grabbing stuff that we can do," junior point guard Quinn Cook said. "We get away with it sometimes in practice but in games... the refs are going to call it."
Brogdon hit a number of big foul shots down the stretch for the Cavaliers en route to 23 points.
Although the Cavaliers' free-throw shooting did not hurt Duke, foul trouble prevented the Blue Devils from playing physical defense down the stretch and provided Virginia with some easy looks at the basket.
"It shouldn't affect us, but it can make guys not as aggressive as they were at the beginning just because you don't want to pick up that fourth foul early in the half," Jefferson said. "It knocks us back a little bit, but it really can't."
Duke will await its NCAA tournament seeding, which is schedule to be released at 6 p.m. tonight. With the loss, the Blue Devils are likely to be a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in this year's 68-team field.