CHARLOTTE—One week ago Saturday, the Blue Devils walked off the court in Chapel Hill ready to hit the reset button prior to starting postseason play.
Three wins, 81 points and 30 rebounds by Zion Williamson later, it’s safe to say Duke is back at its best.
The third-seeded Blue Devils clinched their 21st ACC tournament title after knocking off No. 4 seed Florida State 73-63 Saturday evening at the Spectrum Center. Duke used a 25-11 run in the opening minutes of the second-half to break open a game that was tied at halftime. Williamson capped his stellar tournament for the Blue Devils with a 21-point, five-rebound performance as Duke collected its first piece of hardware of the 2018-19 campaign.
Williamson’s scoring total for the week was a program record for a three-game run in the ACC tournament and earned him MVP honors. Williamson and R.J. Barrett earned a spot on the all-tournament first team and Tre Jones was named to the second team.
“It’s an honor for to us win,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “This is the best conference, especially this year, and I’m proud of my guys. They beat three outstanding opponents, and tonight was a physical, really hard-fought defensive game and our guys played good defense again. So I’m proud of them.”
The Blue Devils (29-5) struggled to find consistency out of the gates, missing each of their first eight attempts from the perimeter as Florida State jumped out to a 27-19 advantage. Duke then started to push the tempo and took advantage of eight first-half turnovers from the Seminoles (27-7) to tie the game at 27 and entered halftime tied at 36.
Terance Mann hit a triple out of the locker room to give the Seminoles a three-point lead, but the Blue Devils came right back with a classic Duke second-half run. Jones hit a jumper, Williamson hit a pair of layups, Javin DeLaurier hit two at the line and a reverse layup by Jones in transition capped a 10-0 spurt. The Blue Devils took a 46-39 advantage with 16:29 remaining—then their largest of the night.
Less than three minutes later, Duke went on another 8-0 spurt to open up a 58-44 advantage, forcing a Florida State timeout with 11:11 remaining. The Blue Devils opened the half with 10 consecutive made 2-pointers and coupled that with stifling defense that held Florida State to just three of its first 15 from the field out of the break.
“We came here and we talked to each other like, ‘We came too far just to lose,’” Williamson said of the message at halftime. “You know, it’s a long bus ride. We don’t want to be on no quiet bus ride. We want to be lit and enjoy ourselves, and also we were playing physical, both teams, so we just had to have execution with it and that’s what we did.”
The Seminoles fought back and cut the Duke lead to as little as five, using a 12-3 run to trim the deficit to 61-56 with 5:28 remaining—behind a team-high 14 points from ACC Sixth Man of the Year Mfiondu Kabengele—but Florida State could not slow down the Blue Devils enough down the stretch. A bucket by Jones and a 3-pointer by Cam Reddish from the left wing with 1:20 left put the game away.
Jones continued his recent attacking mentality on offense, but was more efficient than in past games. The floor general added a season-high 18 points, on 8-of-14 shooting, while racking up six assists in the process.
“I feel like it’s just the will to win. All of us came here with one goal in mind and that’s to win, so especially in a game like today, championship game, my brother’s had my back,” Jones said. “Even at the start of the game I was struggling a little bit. They kept believing in me, coaches kept believing in me and kept telling me just keep going, keep taking my shot. So with them believing in me and trusting in me, those plays were able to be there and I was able to make them.”
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After a slow start from Barrett, the freshman phenom began to attack and ended up with 11 first-half points and 17 in the contest. Barrett complemented another stellar offensive showing from Williamson, who paced the team with 12 in the opening period and led the Blue Devil scoring game on the interior. Both teams showed sloppiness in the first half, combining for 15 turnovers. The teams took better care of the ball out of the locker room, as Duke won the turnover battle 13-12.
Duke did manage to improve in an area that it has struggled mightily in throughout the season—at the charity stripe. The Blue Devils finished the contest with an 81.0 percent clip on free-throw attempts. Duke needed every point it could get at the stripe as the Seminoles could not miss, draining their first 13 attempts and finishing the contest 15-for-16.
With the win, the Blue Devils earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. Duke will be in the East Region and will begin tournament play Friday evening in Columbia, S.C., before potentially moving on to Washington.
“This tournament’s been great, we’re ACC champions,” Williamson said. “I think that if we didn’t win it then the tournament wouldn’t have been great, so us winning this makes it great.