Duke's Kyle Singler, Mason Plumlee and Josh Hairston celebrate with teammates at mid-court after they beat UNC 75-58 to win the ACC Men's Tournament Championship. CHUCK LIDDY - firstname.lastname@example.org
updated 6:12 p.m.
GREENSBORO -- When Duke seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler came off the floor to bear hugs from Mike Krzyzewski in the final minute Sunday, even North Carolina coach Roy Williams stood up and applauded.
Smith and Singler captured their third straight ACC tournament title, the Blue Devils’ 10th in the past 13 years, with a 75-58 defeat of top-seeded North Carolina at the Greensboro Coliseum.
With 20 points, 10 assists and outstanding defense on Tar Heel freshman point guard Kendall Marshall, ACC player of the year Smith added the tournament most valuable player honor to his trophy case.
Singler held North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes, who’d scored 40 points against Clemson one day earlier, to three first-half points as Duke built a 42-28 halftime lead.
“Those are two marvelous seniors,” Williams said, “and you don’t see seniors hang around that much. . . .And what they did was fantastic.”
North Carolina (26-7) had come back from deficits of 19 points against Miami on Friday and 14 points against Clemson on Saturday to win its first two games in the tournament, but couldn’t bounce back this time.
Smith harassed Marshall into two turnovers in the first 76 seconds as No. 2 seed Duke (30-4) scored the first eight points and led 25-8 with 9:31 remaining in the first half. The Blue Devils led by 18 in the first half, held a 42-28 halftime advantage and were ahead by double digits for all but 21 seconds of the second half.
Barnes, whose 16 points led the Tar Heels, hit a 15-foot jumper with 6:01 remaining to cut the lead to 63-54. On Duke’s next two possessions, though, Smith passed to Curry and then Ryan Kelly for wide-open 3-point attempts.
Both shots swished through the basket. After Kelly’s 3-pointer extended the lead to 69-56 with 4:44 remaining, Krzyzewski leaped off the bench and pumped his fist. Curry slapped the floor at midcourt.
“I thought we played our best basketball in the championship game,” said Singler, who along with Curry scored 11 points. “It’s great to win a championship.”
The teams split two games during the regular season, with North Carolina grabbing the ACC regular-season championship with an 81-67 win March 5 in Chapel Hill. Afterward, Smith said he was angry because the Blue Devils gave up 51 points in the first half.
Showing no signs of the toe injury he suffered Friday in the quarterfinals against Maryland, Smith set the tone defensively against Marshall. Smith’s pressure forced North Carolina to start its offense far outside the 3-point arc.
Williams said Marshall wasn’t confident that he could get past Smith.
“We wanted to send a message to everybody – to our fans, to ourselves – that we’re going to play defense and we want to be champions,” Smith said.
North Carolina was held to 33.9 percent from the field and committed 16 turnovers. Every Tar Heel player made less than half of his field goal attempts.
After shooting 6-for-27 from 3-point range during the loss at Chapel Hill, Duke made nine of its 20 3-point attempts. The Blue Devils cut down the nets after recording their third winning margin of 14 points or more in the tournament, demonstrating that they are playing their best just in time for the start of the NCAA tournament later this week.
“We want to win every championship we can,” said sophomore forward Ryan Kelly. “This is the first step in getting ready for the NCAA tournament.”
It was such a convincing step that even Williams applauded Smith and Singler when it was just about over.