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Duke men's basketball clinches a share of ACC regular-season title behind Trevor Keels' star performance

Behind freshman guard Trevor Keels' 27 points, Duke clinched a share of the ACC regular-season title.
Behind freshman guard Trevor Keels' 27 points, Duke clinched a share of the ACC regular-season title.

PITTSBURGH—Although relations between Duke and Pittsburgh are very friendly, indicated clearly by the Panthers honoring Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski before the game and the fact that Pittsburgh head coach Jeff Capel was a player and coach for Krzyzewski, the Blue Devils came out swinging Tuesday night. 

Duke was firing on all cylinders, especially on the offensive end, and no player shined brighter than freshman guard Trevor Keels, who scored a career-high 27 points in the Blue Devils’ 86-56 victory against the Panthers. Keels seemingly could do no wrong Tuesday night, shooting 10-of-15 from the field and 5-of-8 from beyond the arc while also managing to secure three rebounds, two assists and a steal. Keels got going early by making a 3-point jumper within the game’s first minute and scored in a variety of ways for the rest of the night. His five triples, midrange jumpers and physical buckets around the rim created a nightmare for Pittsburgh defensively and his versatility makes it very difficult for the defense to slow him down. 

“He has great balance right now," Krzyzewski said of Keels after the game. "He’s always been a good shooter, but right now, he’s a very good shooter because of having great balance."

Keels cited his teammates' unselfish play as the key ingredient to his success Tuesday night. Although freshman forward Paolo Banchero and junior captain Wendell Moore Jr. both possess incredible scoring ability themselves, they combined for eight assists on the night, with many of those assists going to Keels. The freshman guard is a natural target for his teammates because he can receive the ball anywhere on the court, whether it be in position for a deep three or on a cut for a physical opportunity at the bucket, as his large 6-foot-5 frame gives him an advantage against his often-smaller opponents. Keels has played well in Duke’s biggest games and will be critical to the Blue Devils’ success down the stretch if they hope to make deep ACC and NCAA tournament runs. 

“I think my teammates found me," said Keels. "They saw that I made a couple threes to start off the game. [Banchero] found me, [Moore] found me. Like coach says, our chemistry is unbelievable.”

Duke's success went beyond Keels, though. Four Duke players scored in double digits, with Banchero scoring 21 points on perfect 3-of-3 shooting from downtown. AJ Griffin and Moore also had solid nights, scoring 12 and 13 points, respectively. The Blue Devils put on an impressive display of passing against Pittsburgh, seemingly passing players open all game long. Passing was essential to Duke's success against Syracuse’s zone Saturday, and Tuesday night's game continued that success.

Krzyzewski emphasized the importance of spreading the basketball and expressed his satisfaction with his team's passing.

"They’re taking really good shots, too," Krzyzewski said. "I think they’re learning. They’re more and more comfortable playing with one another. So they know if a guy’s in rhythm, who’s hot, you know. They make that extra pass."

Tuesday night’s win was huge for the Blue Devils because it clinched a share of the ACC regular-season title, a feat Duke had not accomplished since 2010. The worst-case scenario for Duke is to be tied with Notre Dame for first place, and that is assuming that the Fighting Irish win out and that the Blue Devils lose their final game to North Carolina. 

"We’re happy," Keels said about the accomplishment. "We’re in first place. But you know, we have a huge game on Saturday to take care of, and then we can really celebrate after that game."

"It’s great," said Krzyzewski. "But my goal every year is the NCAA tournament.... I’m proud of it. Don't get me wrong, but it’s not like we haven’t won this, and we won two national championships since [2010], and I’d rather have that.”

Krzyzewski's sentiment is almost certainly shared among Duke fans, who are surely most eager to see this team’s performance heading into the postseason, especially after seeing its potential in earlier victories against fellow powerhouses Kentucky and Gonzaga. That being said, capturing an ACC regular-season title indicates an impressive level of consistency and dominance in one’s conference throughout the season, which is very exciting for a Duke team that has been knocked throughout the season for its inconsistency. 

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