All slideshow photos by Anthony Cross
GREENSBORO, N.C. — The ACC may have to front the cost of Daniel Ewing’s omission from the All-ACC teams.
The junior Blue Devil torched Virginia for 26 points—18 of which came in the first half—as No. 5 Duke overcame a determined Virginia squad 84-74 for its 16th consecutive ACC Tournament win, a streak that dates back to 1998.
But victory was never certain for top-seeded Duke (26-4), as it relied upon 27-of-32 free throw shooting and a huge second half from center Shelden Williams to stave off a Cavalier squad led by freshman J.R. Reynolds’ 20-point effort.
“Daniel carried us in the first half and Shelden carried us in the second half,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They had two magnificent performances.”
Indeed, The Landlord’s offensive and defensive output was critical for the Blue Devil’s, who were unable to run away with the contest in front of an often hostile crowd in the Greensboro Coliseum. Williams put up a career-high 27 points while snaring eight rebounds and denying three shots.
“Throughout the game I was putting myself in good position and was sealing my man off,” Williams said. “I knew if I called for the ball that my teammates would find me and get me the ball. That’s what happened in the second half and I started going on a little roll.”
To be fair, Williams went on much more than a little roll. He was spectacular, particularly with the ball in his hands, despite physical double and triple teams from an assembly line of Virginia’s big bodies. Williams’ 27 points came on 8-of-9 shooting from the field and 11-of-13 shooting from the charity stripe.
“I have known for the past few games that I haven’t been playing like I should and I was trying to make a statement,” Williams said. “I wanted to make it a point today of turning over a new leaf and getting back to playing the way I was earlier in the season.”
But as Williams and Ewing carried the offensive burden for Duke, the team was preocuppied grappling with a Virginia team that weathered multiple Blue Devil runs in order to keep the contest’s outcome until the final minute of play. Consider, Krzyzewski’s squad stormed to a 54-40 advantage at the onset of the second half, only to have Virginia claw back to 54-48 at the 15-minute mark. Such was the pattern of play.
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But as Chris Duhon noted in the locker room following the game, this Duke team is not blessed with a go-to player or a National Player of the Year candidate. Rather, Duhon affirmed, the Blue Devils functioned best as a cohesive unit with interchangeable catalysts.
“We played a great team in Duke,” Virginia head coach Pete Gillen said. “With two-and-a-half minutes to go we were down five, we had a chance to possibly steal the game. We just didn’t make enough plays. We just couldn’t get enough stops.... We had to play better defense to beat a great team like that.”
No defensive strategy would have been able to slow Ewing in the opening 20 minutes, however, as Ewing was racking up points from beyond the arc, from mid-range jumpers and from acrobatic drives to the bucket.
“It was one of those situations where we were kind of struggling,” Ewing said. “I was able to pick our team up by making some big plays which helped carry us through that first half.”
The Blue Devils will face-off against Georgia Tech today versus Georgia Tech at 1:30. The Yellow Jackets are the team to most recently defeat Duke, as they did so in stunning fashion by holding down the Blue Devils on their home court.
But after the game, both Ewing and Williams noted that regardless of their opponent, they would be focused and prepared to play their own game, rather than of playing up to a rivalry or revenge match.
“We know that we have to win each game before we get to that point,” Ewing said. “We took care of business today, and now we need to be ready tomorrow to take on whoever.”