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WEATHERED THE STORM: Duke men’s basketball squeaks by Miami to move on to ACC tournament championship game

<p>AJ Griffin poured in 21 points in Duke's win against Miami.</p>

AJ Griffin poured in 21 points in Duke's win against Miami.

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Lights, camera, action. Two of the ACC’s finest, in front of a raucous Barclays Center crowd, delivered in Friday’s ACC tournament semifinal.

But at the end of the night, Duke was just a smidge better than Miami.

In a thriller that had March written all over it, the No. 1-seed Blue Devils advanced to the finals of the ACC tournament via an 80-76 victory against the No. 4-seed Hurricanes.

"Our guys made magnificent plays," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said postgame. "They were flawless in free throws and execution. So my guys did a great job."

As Duke clung to a one-point lead with 58.6 seconds remaining, Wendell Moore Jr. headed to the line for a pair of free throws. The pressure did not seem to faze the Duke captain, however, as the North Carolina native coolly sank both to put the Blue Devils up 72-69. 

A travel by Miami’s Kameron McGusty just a few seconds later, plus a massive offensive rebound by Paolo Banchero off of a Jeremy Roach missed free throw, helped make it just enough for Duke to come out on top. 

The defining sequence, the one that turned the intensity into hyperdrive, came with about five minutes remaining. Wendell Moore Jr. rejected an Isaiah Wong drive, finishing on the other end to give Duke a 65-62 advantage. But Miami's Sam Waardenburg responded with a no-doubt 3-pointer from the left corner, tying things up. 

Over the ensuing few possessions, though, the Blue Devils showed why they had accumulated 27 wins leading into Friday night. Roach hit two from the charity stripe, and freshman guard Trevor Keels finished at the rim to extend the Duke lead to four.

As the second half wore on, the urgency could not have been more clear. Tight closeouts and constant hollering from both benches defined this contest down the stretch. 

Duke looked to flex its muscles during this middle section of the period, as its motion offense was crisp and error-free, exemplified best by an on-point high-low action between Banchero and sophomore center Mark Williams that put the Blue Devils up by five.

"The second half was just back and forth. We hit on a little thing we do and got some multiple looks and got a little bit of a margin," Krzyzewski said. 

Once the ball was tipped, the Hurricanes seemingly had every intention of advancing to the tournament final. Over the first 5:15 of the action, Miami shot 75% from the field and 60% from beyond the arc, as its notoriously small lineup gave the Blue Devils’ switch-heavy approach trouble.

When Waardenburg took advantage of a Wendell Moore Jr. giveaway with an uncontested dunk, the Hurricanes held a 15-7 edge.

"Obviously we got a couple steals, Sam got a steal and a dunk," wing Kameron McGusty, who put up 24 points on 11-of-19 from the field, said on that early surge. "It's part of our defense and our identity."

Needing a boost to claw back into it in the opening half, Duke turned to its 6-foot-10 freshman centerpiece, as Banchero entered the equation with authority. The Seattle native was highly effective operating out of the high post, and he went into the locker room with 11 points on 5-of-6 from the floor.

For the night, the potential top pick in the upcoming NBA Draft finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds, including that crucial board in the final minute.

"Just trying to establish myself early, just being aggressive. Really that's all it was, I was just out playing, just playing basketball and doing it aggressively and with a lot of effort. So that's really all it was to it," Banchero said on what was working in the first half. 

But Miami countered the Banchero-driven run with its typical steady guard play, particularly from Charlie Moore, its gritty floor general. The sixth-year senior drilled a three from the parking lot over Williams to make it 25-22 Hurricanes, and that was just part of the story with the Hurricane guard. 

Thanks to that rally by Charlie Moore, the Hurricanes led 32-24 with time running out before the break. Yet AJ Griffin, after consecutive challenging nights offensively, was as hot as a blowtorch down the stretch of the first half. 

The New York native scored 12 straight for the Blue Devils to make it a tie game, and once sophomore guard Jeremy Roach countered a Jordan Miller lay-in with a tough drive of his own as the clock ticked down, 20 minutes had elapsed and this one was notched at 36-36.

"To have my teammates out there, just being able to just find me and be there to pick me up too on the court," Griffin, who has dealt with food poisoning in recent days, said. "I appreciate it a lot."

Griffin kept it going early in the second period, drilling a corner triple that gave Duke its first lead since the opening minutes. Wendell Moore Jr. followed with a deadly crossover and nailed a three of his own from the right wing, making it 42-38 in favor of the Blue Devils. 

Considering that the Blue Devils switched everything early on to deal with Miami’s five-out offensive style, one might figure that Williams would struggle to stay on the court. Surprisingly, that was not the case, as the Virginia native was quick on his feet and was a force on the glass en route to 10 boards.

"His lateral movement has increased tremendously. That's on him and our medical [team], Nick Potter, Jose [Fonseca], our strength coach. He works all the time with Amile [Jefferson] and Chris Carawell.... He's really gotten stronger. I'm very proud of him," Krzyzewski said on Williams' development.

When these two programs met Jan. 8, Miami parlayed 17 Duke turnovers—and only five turnovers of its own—into a narrow two-point victory in Cameron Indoor Stadium. That was par for the course for the Hurricanes, who lead the ACC with a +4.19 turnover margin and hold a +7.41 margin in points off turnovers.

Friday was not quite the same story. Miami still committed less turnovers than Duke, but Roach, Keels and Wendell Moore Jr. ran the offensive attack smoothly this time around. By the end of the night, the Blue Devils finished with 10 turnovers.

Under the circumstances, Duke escaping with a victory is certainly impressive on multiple fronts. 

For one, Miami was 11-6 this season in games decided by two or fewer possessions going into Friday, which shows that the Hurricanes live for the clutch. 

Second, Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga’s program has been a major thorn in Krzyzewski’s side since the former arrived in the Sunshine State back in 2011. During that time frame, Miami is one of four programs—alongside Kansas, Ohio State and Utah—with at least a .500 record in multiple meetings with Duke.

"Right at the end, Jim and I shook hands on the court, we both smiled at one another. We've done this hundreds of times," Krzyzewski said. 

Duke now moves on to the ACC tournament final, where it will face No. 7-seed Virginia Tech, which emphatically beat third-seeded North Carolina 72-59 in Friday's second semifinal. The contest will tip off at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, right back in the Barclays Center.

Max Rego profile
Max Rego

Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.


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