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Duke wins ACC tournament title / March 16, 2009
ATLANTA - Experience over youth, at least in terms of basketball tradition.

Third-seeded Duke fashioned key offensive surges in the first and second half and held off fourth-seeded Florida State to win its 17th men’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship yesterday, 79-69, at the Georgia Dome.

The ‘Noles eliminated top-ranked UNC here Saturday afternoon, but could not complete an unprecedented Tobacco Road sweep deep in the heart of Georgia.

Duke (28-6) had too much offensive firepower for FSU, now 25-9. The Blue Devils, who appeared headed for a possible second half ACC slump at one point, started well in the ACC title game and never lost the handle on the championship game.

Duke heads into the NCAA tournament with wins in eight of its last nine games, with the lone blemish coming at Senior Day at UNC.

Jon Scheyer, battling a slump for most of the ACC regular season, emerged as ACC tournament MVP after a dazzling 29-point barrage in the championship finale. Gerald Henderson also had repeated critical offensive contributions and finished with 27 points. Kyle Singler added 14, as Duke tied hated rival North Carolina with 17 ACC titles overall.

Duke sizzled from beyond the arc, connecting on 12-of-25 attempts, including five-of-11 in the second half. (FSU was 9-for-18 from bonus land).

According to some projections, the Blue Devils headed to the NCAA tournament as a possible no. 2 seed. The field was announced last night. FSU also boosted its tournament stock with a historic run to the Finals, before falling short in front of 26,352 hoops fans at the Dome.

Toney Douglas, who lifted FSU to the finals for the first time in school history, finished with 28 points after a sluggish start. Chris Singleton had 15 points and center Soloman Alabi had ten, but the ‘Noles had no answer for decisive Blue Devil surges in both halves.

FSU shot 69.2 percent in second half and 66.7 percent from three-point range, but the ‘Noles never recovered from a poor start in the first 20 minutes. FSU shot just 21.7 percent in the first half, five-for-23 from the field, and trailed by 14, 35-21, at the break.

Duke had a blazing 22-7 run in the first half, hitting treys on five of six possessions, and never lost essential momentum. FSU, which took out a UNC team that had to play without ACC player of the year Ty Lawson, found Duke to be a very formidable obstacle early.

“We started off well with Jon and Gerald,” said Singler. “They set the tone for the team and we fed off each other. As long as we stayed aggressive on the offensive end, we felt like we were going to be allright, and we played some good defense in the second half.”

Noted FSU’s Chris Singleton, Duke “came out hot. They were 7-for-14 on threes (at the end of the first half). We were not expecting that. (Defensively), they switch and they focused on Toney (Douglas) and forced him to miss a couple of shots and they made shots on the other end.”

“The story of the game was Scheyer, Henderson and Singler,” said FSU coach Leonard Hamilton. “They carried the load, they were much more effective against us. Those 3s in the first half came in bunches, but they shot 5-of-11 in the second half. It was just one of those days where they weren’t going to miss from the 3-point line. You run into a team sometimes that has a hot streak going like that and unfortunately for us, today that was Duke.

FSU struggled to establish offensive consistency, and finished with a negative assist to turnover ratio (9-to-13), while Duke showed the kind of championship quality poise typical for this program in the Mike Krzyzewski era.

Duke, which has now won eight of the last 12 tournament titles, responded with critical, timely offense every time FSU threatened here.

The ‘Noles closed within six at the 12:17 mark on a Ryan Reid layup (42-36), but Duke went on a 20-7 run to seize a 62-43 lead after a Singler 3-pointer. Scheyer had started the run with a key trey at the 11:44 mark.

“If I overlooked Scheyer, then that was my mistake because I think he’s probably the reason why they are where they are,” said Douglas. “That was a great move, moving him to the point guard. He settles them down. He makes you pay every time you make a defensive mistake. He has great court vision, he moves the ball, makes great decisions, he hits all his free throws. He knocks down open looks. He has a calming effect on their team that allows them to play at a pace that they like. He doesn’t turn the ball over and he is really, truly a quarterback out there on the floor. He’s in control of the system when he’s running the point,” said the FSU coach.

FSU later pulled back within nine, trailing 73-64 after a three-point play from Douglas, but Duke held the ‘Noles off at the line, getting four straight free throws from Henderson and Scheyer.

The Blue Devils finished the day 19-for-26 at the foul line, while FSU was 14-of-19.

Scheyer put the cap on the championship celebration with a layup over FSU pressure with 18 seconds left.

Duke heads to the NCAA tournament with Singler (16.7 ppg), Henderson (16.6) and Scheyer (15.0) all playing with renewed confidence.

The Blue Devils looked like they might be in for a turbulent second half in ACC play at one point, but Krzyzewski brought along talented freshman Elliot Williams, who gave Duke a lift. Williams wasn’t a factor yesterday, but will help Duke’s overall athleticism in the postseason.

Duke also got quality minutes off the bench from Nolan Smith and senior defensive stopper Dave McClure, as seven players had at least 13 minutes in the ACC tournament final. Duke, which actually got outshot from the field, (46.9 percent to 41.4) got better value with the ball, because of fewer turnovers.

Duke still isn’t getting balanced inside contributions from its big men. The Blue Devils, however, still appear vulnerable to an athletic team with a powerful inside-outside presence, such as Pitt.

But Duke played smart, poised basketball, while FSU showed its inexperience in the tournament final. The Blue Devils had 12 assists and only four turnovers on 24 made baskets, while the ‘Noles struggled for consistency much of the way.

FSU, meanwhile, could not mount a consistent threat to Duke. The ‘Noles did not have enough to counter Duke’s triple threat here. Guard Derwin Kitchen, so effective against UNC, had a forgettable final, going 0-for-3 from the field, with no points and four fouls in 19 minutes.

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