GREENSBORO, N.C.—One month to the day before Saturday’s conference championship game, Duke suffered a controversial overtime loss at Virginia, all but ending any hope of a regular-season conference title in Durham.
The Blue Devils have not lost since. And now, after exacting their revenge, they have earned the right to call themselves ACC tournament champions.
No. 4-seed Duke never trailed in Saturday night’s championship bout inside Greensboro Coliseum, riding sparkling performances by star freshman Kyle Filipowski (20 points, 10 rebounds) and junior captain Jeremy Roach (career-high 23 points) to a 59-49 win and its 22nd conference tournament victory, its first since 2019. Head coach Jon Scheyer now stands atop the ACC after his first season in the league, and the Blue Devils, with nine straight wins to their name, enter the NCAA tournament as perhaps the hottest team in the country.
“I really give these guys all the credit in the world,” Scheyer, standing on stage amid the celebration, said after the game. “… These guys have just stuck together, kept working, they get knocked back, they keep getting up, and they’ve shown what they’re made of.”
Filipowski, who managed to shine on offense in a first half with little of it, picked up right where he left off to start the second, driving to put Duke up 26-17. But as Virginia quickened its scoring pace, Roach kept the Blue Devils ahead by connecting on a pair of early threes, including one from the corner to give his team its largest lead at 36-22.
Virginia refused to fade away, but the two-man punch of Roach and Filipowski was too much for the Cavaliers’ final true comeback bid. When freshman guard Isaac McKneely’s 3-pointer cut Duke’s lead to 38-32 with 8:34 to go, Filipowski — later named the tournament's Most Valuable Player — responded.
On the following play, he slung a left-handed pass across the court to Tyrese Proctor in the corner, who promptly connected for three points. On the next, the ACC Rookie of the Year had his moment, pickpocketing senior guard Armaan Franklin and cruising up the open court for the slam. In a flash, Virginia was right back where it started, trailing 43-32.
The Cavaliers made one last rally, narrowing the Duke lead to six points on another McKneely triple. This time, Roach — who scored 19 of his 23 points after halftime — was there to stop it, driving for the layup and the foul. The free throw to follow made it 52-43 Blue Devils with 2:38 on the clock, putting an unofficial seal on the Blue Devils’ monumental win.
“These guys just stuck with it,” Scheyer said in his postgame press conference, Filipowski and Roach seated to his left. “Jeremy has grown tremendously this year. Not just the last couple years, but this year, he's grown tremendously. [Filipowski] in the summer, I was worried about this guy a little bit, man. I just needed him to run up and down a little bit first. But he's come a long way, has he not?”
Virginia dictated the pace out of the gates, holding onto the ball for long possessions and forcing the Blue Devils deep into the shot clock on the other end. But it was Duke that took the early lead, pushing the pace where it could to score the contest’s first six points before Franklin’s corner 3-pointer put the Cavaliers on the board at the 16:40 mark.
That same snail’s pace persisted deep into the half, with any and all scoring coming sparingly as Duke never looked back after Roach’s opening bucket. Virginia’s offense sputtered out completely for a scoreless stretch of 5:28 before the break, with the Cavaliers only responding after a Filipowski drive gave the Blue Devils a 22-11 lead with two minutes on the clock.
When the halftime buzzer sounded, the Blue Devils headed to the locker room with a 24-17 lead. Virginia’s 17 points were the least Duke has allowed in the opening frame this season, and the Blue Devils’ 24 points only narrowly topped their previous low of 22 first-half points from a blowout January loss at N.C. State.
Veteran guard Kihei Clark was notably absent throughout, entering the half with two points and finishing just 1-of-9 from the field for six points. His struggle was largely representative of the Cavaliers’ hardships on the offensive end, which lessened but never fully disappeared.
“I believe that we're the best defensive team in the ACC and maybe even the nation,” freshman center Dereck Lively II said. “Each and every one of us took it personally to stop anything that they had going. So that's what we did.”
Filipowski continued his torrid stretch early Friday night, burying a wing three with 12:45 to play in the first to give Duke its largest lead yet and ignite an 11-point first half. The freshman, who finished with zero points in Duke’s February loss to the Cavaliers and centered on the controversial final play of regulation, set the scoring pace from start to finish.
“Personally, going into this game, obviously there was a little more of a chip on my shoulder,” Filipowski said. “Just being able to show what I'm capable of against this team. But also, there was so much more to play for too besides that. I was playing for a championship, I was playing with these guys, and that means so much more to me than just something that I'm wanting to prove individually.”
Duke’s win also marks a significant milestone for its first-year head coach. In claiming the conference tournament crown, as he did twice in a Duke uniform in 2009 and 2010, Scheyer becomes the first to do so as both a player and head coach. He also enters the history books as the third first-year head coach to triumph at the event, joining Duke’s Vic Bubas (1960) and North Carolina’s Bill Guthridge (1998).
“To share that together, going through this for the first time, and for the regular season to end this way with winning the tournament championship is really special,” Scheyer said. “... Winning a championship is a special thing, so I want to enjoy this tonight. I want these guys to enjoy it. We'll figure out where we're going tomorrow and worry about that then.”
Alongside the MVP in Filipowski, Roach and Lively both earned selections to the All-Tournament Team. Filipowski averaged 19.7 points and 7.0 rebounds across Duke's three wins, while Roach averaged 15 points and Lively anchored the Blue Devil defense with seven total blocks.
While the Blue Devils were all but ensured an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament prior to Saturday, their championship win makes them an automatic qualifier for the Big Dance. Their exact seeding fate will be determined during Sunday’s selection show at 6 p.m.
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.