The story of Duke’s season has been the way it has persevered through tough times. There were injuries early on. Coach Mike Krzyzewski missed a month after back surgery. Grayson Allen had some Grayson Allen moments. Still, in the final weeks of the regular season, things started coming together.
Friday night was another story of perseverance, this time in the ACC Tournament semifinals against archrival North Carolina. The 14th-ranked and fifth-seeded Blue Devils, playing for a third straight night, were down 13 points to the fourth-ranked and top-seeded Tar Heels in the second half. But it wasn’t over.
Duke’s offense started to click, and when it came together, it was something to behold. The Blue Devils blew past the Tar Heels in an eight-minute stretch and pulled away for a 93-83 victory at Barclays Center.
“Our guys just fought,” Krzyzewski said.
The run was a 29-9 feat that opened with Jayson Tatum driving through the lane for a dunk. On the ensuing Duke possession — which Krzyzewski said was its “best play of the game” — Allen chased down a loose ball and found Luke Kennard open in the corner for a three-pointer. He made the shot, was fouled and converted the four-point play.
When Kennard made both ends of a one-and-one with 10:21 to play, it was 63-all. It was 77-70 Duke with 5:30 left after the Blue Devils scored on three straight possessions.
“One of the biggest things for us is we have to stay poised in situations that we’re in,” Kennard said. “As a group, we’ve grown up because of so many different things we’ve been through this season. We’ve had so much adversity. But I think we’ve grown in a sense that, when we are down in games and we want to make a charge, we continue to stay poised. We continue to stay calm. We don’t let anything affect the way that we’re playing as a group. We stay ourselves.”
Duke (25-8) advanced to its 33rd ACC title game and will be seeking its 20th crown and first since 2011. The Blue Devils will meet Notre Dame at 9 Saturday night.
Tatum scored 24 points and Kennard had 20. Allen added 18 and Frank Jackson scored all 15 of his in the second half.
Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks had 19 apiece for UNC (27-7). “Our guys have to be able to overcome adversity,” Roy Williams said. “The more-disciplined, better-coached team was the one that won tonight. I have to do a better job.”
He added: “Our final goal was not to win the ACC. It’s to play on the final Monday night of the season and win that game.”