Duke advances to ACC Tournament final

With Karima Christmas lying on the court in pain just a day after Jasmine Thomas had to leave the game against Wake Forest with a knee injury, it looked like the Blue Devils might not have enough starters to even survive the ACC Tournament.

Christmas persevered however, and led Duke to a berth in the ACC Tournament final, scoring a game-high 20 points as part of a 74-66 victory over Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets kept the game close until the final minutes, but Christmas and company hung on for their 28th victory of the year.

The Blue Devils will play rival North Carolina for the ACC Tournament Championship Sunday at 1 p.m.

“Just a really exciting, physical, very good basketball game in so many ways. I was proud of our team and our fight,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.

Duke trounced Georgia Tech 69-32 when the two teams met in January, but the Yellow Jackets made it apparent from the opening tip that they weren’t going to allow the Blue Devils to blow open the game. Duke jumped out to a 10-3 lead early on, but behind the clutch shooting of Metra Walthour and Alex Montgomery, Georgia Tech never let the margin become insurmountable.

Walthour’s touch from behind the arc—she shot 5-for-10 for the game—befuddled the Blue Devil defense throughout the game. Duke’s high-pressure defense often forced the Yellow Jackets to take shots with the shot clock expiring, but Georgia Tech was still able to convert on 40 percent of its shots.

With Georgia Tech down only two points after a 7-2 Yellow Jacket run, Christmas took over.

After Jasmine Thomas was well guarded with just seconds remaining on the shot clock and forced up an airball, Christmas boxed out for the offensive rebound and converted from close-range just as the buzzer sounded. After Haley Peters extended the lead back to seven, Christmas’s driving layup made the score 61-53.

“I thought we made some huge plays down the stretch,” McCallie said. “I thought Karima was just incredible with her strength. I thought she made incredible plays to the basket sometimes, pretty physical ones with a lot of people hanging on her.”

Freshman Chelsea Gray flourished in her second game back from an ankle injury suffered against Virginia Tech, and made a number of plays late that buoyed the Blue Devils. Seven of Gray’s 10 points came in the second half, but it was her steal of a lazy Tyaunna Marshall pass with 34 seconds remaining that sealed Duke’s trip to the Tournament final.

“This is where we want to be. Going to have some bumps and bruises, but we're awesome. We're going to come back tomorrow strong,” Christmas said.

In the late game at the Greensboro Coliseum, the Tar Heels beat Miami 83-57 behind 28 points from Jessica Breland. Duke will face North Carolina for the second time in seven days, having just beaten the Tar Heels in Durham 66-58 Feb. 27.


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