WASHINGTON -- They survived.
With Daniel Ewing and DeMarcus Nelson fouled out, J.J. Redick was Duke's best ball handler. And getting the ball across halfcourt was a hair-raising adventure for the Blue Devils, but Redick was not a bad option as the thought of putting the eventual tournament MVP at the line gave a shaky guard enough space to bring the ball up the floor.
Before Shelden Williams tipped in a David McClure miss from the line with four seconds left, the Blue Devils had not hit a field goal in 11 minutes as the Yellow Jackets scampered around the perimeter and took Duke out of its offense.
During that span, the third-seeded Blue Devils went 12-for-14 from the line, including six from Redick. It was enough to hold off the Yellow Jackets, 69-64, and win the team's sixth ACC Tournament in seven years.
"We just had to gut it out, and that is what we did," said Shavlik Randolph, one of four forwards on the court with Redick in the final minutes. "We got fouled. We made free throws. J.J. and Lee [Melchionni] made big free throws. It wasn't pretty, though, but we won."
With six of the top 10 teams falling in conference tournaments this weekend, including No. 2 North Carolina and No. 4 Wake Forest here at the MCI Center, the No. 5 Blue Devils earned a top seed in the Austin bracket for the NCAA Tournament. They will play their opening games in Charlotte beginning Friday against Delaware State.
"We should be a No. 1 seed," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after Sunday's game, when he did not know where his team would be placed in the bracket. "We're the champions of the best conference in the country. We play the toughest schedule within our conference as far as conference schedule, and we're 25-5. Usually the conference champion of the best conference would get that."
Sunday's victory gives Duke what Krzyzewski calls the league's true championship during a season during a season when the Blue Devils were not expected to cut down the nets. Although the coach was nonchalant when taking the final strands out of the rim, he said after the game that he was "astounded" his team took home the championships.
"It is a big-time win for us, especially coming into the season a lot of people didn't think we could be in the position to win the ACC," said Williams, who blocked six shots and disrupted Georgia Tech's inside game all day long. "They had us in the middle of the pack, and now we are in a position where we may get a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament."
Georgia Tech (19-11), which came into the Tournament as the fourth seed and on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, earned a five seed, returning to the form that took many of the same players to the Final Four a year ago.
After Redick carried the Blue Devils in a semifinal win Saturday and a host of role players provided the scoring punch the day before, it was Duke's "big three" that put the team on its back when it counted most. Redick, Williams and Ewing, who all made the All-Tournament first team, combined for all but 12 of the team's points. Redick scored a game-high 26, including two buckets that helped push Duke's lead to 13.
Yellow Jacket guard Will Bynum did not have nearly the offensive performance he did a day earlier to beat UNC, but he still conducted Georgia Tech's comeback charge.
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With less than two minutes left, an Anthony Morrow three and a pair of Bynum free throws brought Duke's lead down to two. Two sequences later, Morrow hit a jumper on the Yellow Jackets' fourth shot of the possession to cut the lead to one.
Jarrett Jack, who scored 17 despite being hobbled after spraining his ankle with 10 minutes left, fouled Redick before Duke could inbound the ball. Neither of the junior's two free throws even touched the rim.
Bynum had yet another chance with a pair of looks from behind the arc on the ensuing trip down the floor. His second attempt ended up in the hands of McClure, who missed both his free throws before the Williams tip-in with four seconds left.
"We got some excellent looks," Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt said. "Anthony Morrow one time at the top of the key, Will Bynum had one, and even a pull-up that Will had when it was a two-point game I thought was a great shot. He got in the lane, elevated nicely and it was clean."
Williams was the only Blue Devil on the lane as Redick, Randolph and Melchionni all dropped back to guard against a quick three, which could have sent the game into overtime. As the miss hung on the rim an extra second, Williams got a hand of the rebound and quickly tipped it in.
Both teams had difficulty getting going offensively until 10 minutes had gone by in the game--neither team scored during a four-minute stretch and Duke led 8-4 at the 12-minute mark.
Krzyzewski said Sean Dockery, who has been out with a torn medial collateral ligament, could be available for Duke's NCAA Tournament opener, contingent on an exam Monday.... Georgia Tech's B.J. Elder and North Carolina's Raymond Felton joined the trio of Blue Devils on the first All-Tournament team.... The ACC earned five bids to the NCAA Tournament. North Carolina is a one seed in the Syracuse regional and will also play its opening games in Charlotte. Wake Forest is a No. 2 seed in the Albuquerque regional, and N.C. State is a 10 seed in the Syracuse regional.... Redick's 76 points were four short of the Duke record for most points in an ACC Tournament.