Duke defeated Miami 80-76 Friday night to advance to Saturday’s ACC Tournament title game. The Blue Devils survived a great Miami start, caught up at the half, led most of the second half but never by very much and made the clutch plays they needed to make down the stretch.
And guess who led the charge? Freshman A.J. Griffin, who according to Mike Krzyzewski was still feeling the impact of his stomach issues much of the day.
Miami smoked Duke early. Griffin gave Duke a 3-0 lead and Paolo Banchero scored inside to make it 5-3.
That would be Duke’s last lead of the first half.
Miami responded with a Kameron McGusty two, a Charlie Moore three and a McCusty three and it was 11-5 barely three minutes into the game.
The lead peaked at 18-7.
“They almost knocked us out,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “The plan we had didn’t work. We weren’t aggressive in the plan we had and that’s on us, on the coaching staff, on me. We could have been down double digits if we had kept going. But we did right the ship.”
Paolo Banchero kept Duke in it on the offensive boards and attacking inside.
“I just know that when I’m intense and up and talking, it just rubs off. When we went down early I wanted to assert myself and be vocal and get everybody going.”
Duke tied it at 22-22 but Miami responded with a 7-0 run and led 29-22 when Griffin heated up. A couple of layups, a couple of three-pointers, a jumper, 12 points by Griffin in a span of just over four minutes and it was tied at 34-34.
Jordan Miller put Miami up 36-34 but Jeremy Roach tied it with a coast-to-coast layup as the half ended 36-36, a huge play that gave Duke some momentum at the half..
Griffin said of his explosion “whatever the circumstance, I’m just thinking about the game. My teammates just count on me to do my part. I put it on the line for everyone.”
Krzyzewski called the second half back-and-forth and that was no exaggeration. McGusty put Miami up 38-36 but Griffin made another triple. Duke tried to get some separation and had leads of 51-46, then 55-48, then seven points again at 57-50 and 59-52.
But Miami is a tough, veteran team; we found that out at Cameron a few months ago, A McGusty three put them back on top at 62-61, with six minutes left. Wendell Moore, Jr. scored four quick points but Sam Waardenburg tied it with a 3 at 65-65, with five minutes left.
Duke has had lots of close games this year and not all of them have ended the way Duke wanted them to. But Mark Williams said that Duke had learned from them.
“Plays like that show our growth as a team, those moments where we didn’t make those plays, didn’t convert. But now later in the season we’re making those plays, making the right decision. I think it’s just a testament to our hard work throughout the season.”
No one play decided the game. Jeremy Roach made two foul shots and Trevor Keels scored inside and Duke led 69-65. Isaiah Wong hit four foul shots and it was 70-69. But Moore hit two from the line, then Roach, then Keels made two after Banchero grabbed fhe offensive rebound following Roach’s miss from the line on the second shot.
Duke’s last 11 points came from the foul line, as Miami kept trying to shorten the game and see if Duke would choke and Duke would not choke.
Miami coach Jim Larrañaga cited Duke’s clutch foul shooting (17-22) and his team’s woeful 2-8 start from the line as key factors in his team’s loss; Wong’s late flurry from the line left Miami at 6-12 from the line.
Duke out-rebounded Miami 40-31, which Larrañaga said was expected. But he added that his team needed to counter that by forcing more than the 10 turnovers Duke committed.
Griffin led Duke with 21 points, while Banchero had 18 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists. Moore had 17 points and 6 rebounds, Williams 9 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks, Roach 9 points.
McGusty led all scorers with 24 points.
“Just a heck of a game,” Krzyzewski summed up. “This was a game where both teams were worthy of winning. Everything was earned tonight. I’m proud of my guys.”
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