The pressure had been slowly mounting in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Entering the second half with a newfound intensity, the No. 7 Blue Devils had clawed their way back from a six-point halftime deficit to trade baskets with the No. 24 Seminoles. Add in the emotions surrounding Senior Night, head coach Mike Krzyzewski ditching his jacket and the implications of a late-season ACC game, and you're left with a ticking time-bomb.
And with five minutes left in the second half Tuesday, Cameron finally exploded.
The Blue Devils used a second-half run to seal an 84-81 win over the Seminoles (22-8, 9-6 in the ACC), guaranteeing themselves a bye in the first round of the ACC Tournament.
Stealing the ball from Seminole superstar Toney Douglas with just more than five minutes remaining, Kyle Singler fought his way to the baseline and flew over a defender for a resounding slam that put Duke (25-5, 11-4) ahead by six--and sent the Crazies over the edge.
"It was huge," Krzyzewski said of the dunk. "It got me excited, I know that."
The Blue Devils played off that excitement and the deafening cheers from the crowd. Senior Dave McClure's fifth foul only added to the emotional atmosphere. And in the game's last two minutes, Gerald Henderson stepped up to score nine of Duke's last 10 points to notch the win and finish the game with a double-double of 21 points and 10 rebounds.
"[Singler and Henderson] made some big-time plays," senior captain Greg Paulus said. "They've been doing that all year for us, stepping up and making those shots or passes. They were just all over the place in the second."
But there was something else special about Tuesday's down-to-the-wire victory. For the first time in four seasons, Duke sent its seniors-Paulus, McClure and Marty Pocius-out in style with a win in their last home game.
Paulus finished with two crowd-rousing 3-pointers and two assists, and McClure notched four points in a solid defensive performance with two rebounds, two blocks and a steal. Pocius, who is bypassing his final year of NCAA eligibility, ended the night with a defensive rebound. All three seniors started.
"The guys that are seniors-they put a lot into the program. They care so much," Singler said. "The win for the seniors means a lot to them, and it means a lot to us."
And the Blue Devils worked hard for that win. Duke struggled a bit offensively from behind the 3-point line in the first half. The period was marked by a combined 24 fouls between the two teams-, with several Blue Devils dangerously at several fouls apiece.
Duke, however, found a new verve in the second period. The Blue Devils came alive offensively in both paint and 3-point scoring. Singler's baseline dunk capped off a stellar performance for the sophomore, who sunk 16 of his 20 total points in the second half. Junior Jon Scheyer and freshman Elliot Williams rounded out the Blue Devils' top scorers with 17 and 14 points, respectively.
"We made the comeback with the effort and the plays we made today," Paulus said. "These fans deserve it. They've been so great to our teams over the years and myself-we just wanted to leave this place with a win."
NOTES: Junior Lance Thomas left the game early in the first half with an ankle injury. Krzyzewski said after the game that X-rays did not reveal a break, but that he did not know how serious the injury was or when Thomas would return to the lineup.
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