Throughout the first three games of the ACC tournament, Tech had stopped the last minute three-point shot to secure the victory and advance to next round. This time, Tech could only watch as the game-deciding shot fell through the hoops and ended the team’s surprise run.
Playing its fourth game in four days, Tech failed to capture its first ACC Tournament championship since 1993, falling to Duke in Sunday’s finale at Greensboro Coliseum, 65-61.
“We had some good plays [against Duke]. I’m proud of what we did this tournament, just sad that we blew up,” said junior forward Gani Lawal.
Freshman forward Derrick Favors led all scorers again with 22 points. He also had 11 rebounds and was six-for-seven from the free throw line.
Favors was instrumental during the second half, scoring 15 points to keep Tech within single-digits until the run near the end of the game. Leading for the entirety of the game, Duke extended its lead to 11 with 4:22 left to play in the game off of a dunk by forward Mason Plumlee. With the score at 56-45, Tech went on a 14-3 run over the next four minutes. The team closed the lead to one when Favors dunked the ball with 48 seconds left.
“It’s all part of a maturation process of a freshman… [Derrick has] turned into a big time player because he has worked very, very hard,” said Head Coach Paul Hewitt.
Duke took the ball to the other side and let the shot clock wind down to just eight seconds. Guard Nolan Smith threw a quick pass to guard Jon Scheyer on the right side of the court and he turned and attempted a fade-away three-point shot. Tech had seen this several times this tournament and stopped it with a defensive play each time. This time, it was not enough; Scheyer’s shot hit home, giving Duke a 63-59 lead and all but securing the victory.
“The way they have played all year, you have to anticipate they are going to take a shot like that…. That’s a big time shot you just saw. Everything we wanted him to do, he did…there’s nothing else we could have done on that play other than pray for a miss,” Hewitt said.
If the ball had not gone in, it may have been recovered by Tech, who would have had about 15 seconds for the final shot, though the team had no timeouts.
“If [Scheyer] misses that, we’re winning the basketball game. We’re going to get the rebound, it’s going to come out long, and we’re going to score,” Hewitt said.
Following Scheyer’s three, Tech quickly ran the length of the court and sophomore guard Iman Shumpert cut the lead to two with a layup. Tech quickly fouled on the inbound pass, but Duke forward Kyle Singler hit a pair of free throws to secure the win.
Despite how close the two played at the end, it seemed like it would be a blowout from the beginning. Duke jumped out to an 8-0 lead early in the first half when Tech committed three turnovers in less than three minutes. Tech recovered, but trailed by as many as 12 points with a little over eight minutes left in the game. Junior guard Moe Miller made a three on the next possession to cut it to nine.
Tech was able to score a couple of baskets to keep the team within single digits each time Duke looked to be running away with the game. Seconds after a dunk by forward Duke forward Andre Dawkins, Hewitt called a timeout with 3:53 left in the first half. The Jackets then went on a 6-0 run to cut the lead to five, with Lawal accounting for four of those points. The score was 29-22 heading into the locker room.
In the second half, Duke extended its lead to nine points three times over the first 12 minutes, but Favors was able to answer with either a dunk, jumper or free throws to cut it back down to seven on each run.
Still, even with the different result, the defense once again forced a low percentage of three-point shots and forced trouble for the opposing team’s star players.
Scheyer and Singler combined to shoot just seven-for-28 from the field for Duke, including two-for-11 from the three-point line.
“I think we did a pretty good job on [Singler]. He still scored the ball, [and] it’s hard to stop a great player, but I felt that defensively our guards did a good job of keeping him under control,” said senior forward Zachery Peacock.
Unfortunately, Singler was fouled frequently and got to the line 16 times, making 14 of those shots. The number of attempts was the same as the Tech team combined and Singler had two more made free throws than the Jackets squad.
Tech played its fourth game in four days. It is only the second team ever in ACC Tournament history to have to do so.
“I never sensed in the huddle that it was difficult from a physical standpoint or a mental standpoint…. in terms of the fourth game on the fourth day, I didn’t feel like it an impact,” Hewitt said.
Tech attempted to make history by becoming the lowest seeded team to win the ACC tournament, but fell short.
“We [were] playing for the ACC championship, no time to be tired,” Lawal said.