Here are some thoughts and observations – with themes provided by some of Brooklyn’s finest – from the sights, sounds and happenings at the ACC Tournament semifinals on Friday night.
DUKE 93 , NORTH CAROLINA 83
Paper Thin: “…So I treat all of you like I treat all of them, and what you say to me is just paper thin.”
UNC’s Kennedy Meeks had 15 points and seven rebounds, three of those being offensive boards, in the first half. His fellow Carolina big man Isaiah Hicks also feasted on a Duke defense, early on, that looked ridiculously paper thin. The Blue Devils were helpless in the paint, with the Tar Heels scoring at will and with little resistance. North Carolina connected on 20 of their 36 first-half shots and was unstoppable down low.
But heading into the half only up by seven, 49-42, thanks to Duke’s Jayson Tatum scoring 18 points in 19 minutes and Grayson Allen coming off the bench to hit 4-of-5 from deep, it had to be somewhat disconcerting to Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams that his team wasn’t up by a much bigger margin. His team shredded Duke in the interior early on, but Coach K’s Blue Devils took those blows without getting knocked out, setting the stage for a vicious second-half run that would ultimately prove to be the Tar Heels’ undoing.
Meeks finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds and North Carolina had the bigger, deeper and more experienced team. But despite their interior dominance early on, they couldn’t sustain it in the second half as Duke told them, “hit the road Sam, and don’t you come back no more, no more, no more, no more. Hit the road Sam, and don’t you come back no more.”
You Can’t Stop The Prophet: “I dip, do a back flip, then hit em in the heart with sharp steel bookmarks, ignorance hates when I drop it, but no matter what he do, he can’t stop the Prophet.”
Duke found themselves down by 12 points early in the second half, but rallied down the stretch to close the game on a 28-9 run. Luke Kennard, who had five points at halftime, dropped 15 in the second half. Frank Jackson was scoreless in the first twenty minutes, but he also got busy to the tune of 15 second-half points. Allen was 5-of-6 from behind the three-point line and Tatum was unstoppable all game long, finishing with a team-high 24 points.
Despite seeming to be vulnerable in the post, Duke is a scary matchup for anybody when Allen, Kennard, Jackson and Tatum can all get it going at the same time. Just when it seemed like North Carolina was about to knock them out, Duke turned the switch from being dormant to dominant, and took two of their three games against their heated rival this year, who many seem to think is the ACC team with the best chance of winning the national championship.
NOTRE DAME 77, FLORIDA STATE 73
The Blast: “We make the sky crack, feel the fly track, get your hands up like a hijack.”
During their 18 years of playing in the Big East, Notre Dame never advanced to the tournament championship game in Madison Square Garden.
But despite all of the noise that permeates the ACC from those two exceptional programs on Tobacco Road, the Fighting Irish have, low-key, become one of the best programs in the entire country. This is the second time in three years that Notre Dame will be knuckling up for the ACC Tournament crown.
Steve Vasturia and Bonzie Colson each scored 18 points last night to help knock off a very deep and talented Florida State squad.
Notre Dame has beaten Duke, their opponent in tonight’s title game, two years in a row in the conference tourney. They eliminated any hopes early on that this semifinal game could duplicate the excitement and uncertainty from the evening’s earlier matchup between Duke and North Carolina when they ripped off a 23-8 run to wrap up the first half.
With Colson being one of the best post players in the country, Notre Dame’s got a shot to make some major noise in March because they also shoot the bell extremely well. Last night, they banged in 13 of their 27 shots from deep.
Knowledge of Self, Determination: “The fire’s in my eyes and the flames need fannin’.”
Don’t be fooled by their lack of size in the paint. Colson is a man-child who can rock out with any and everyone down low, despite being undersized as a center and power forward at 6-foot-5. The Fighting Irish make up for their rebounding deficiencies against bigger teams with a very good perimeter defense that causes turnovers.
They play some excellent, disciplined and efficient small-ball. They know who they are and they do the little things extremely well. If you aren’t on your “A” game and are fooled into thinking that you’ll have an easy time against Notre Dame because they’re small, think again.
Duke also struggles with some interior deficiencies, but they also know that when they are at their best, they’ve got it working on the perimeter. In their last two games at Barclays, the Blue Devils looked like they’d be heading back to Durham after falling behind and looking overwhelmed at times against Louisville and North Carolina. They overcame a 13-point second-half deficit to the Tar Heels and a 12-point hole to the Cardinals.
When Duke looks to be on the ropes and primed to go down, Coach K goes into his rope-a-dope, starts pushing some buttons on his defensive approach – whether picking up for 94 feet or going to various half-court zones – and the Blue Devils seem to absorb their opponents best blows before firing back with an offensive onslaught that ends in a knockout.
If they continue, and if Kennard, Jackson, Allen and Tatum ball out in supreme synchronicity, Duke will become the first team to win four games in four days to win the ACC Tournament, becoming the event’s first No. 5 seed to ever win it all in the process.
Coach K won the lone regular-season meeting against Notre Dame earlier this year, 84-74.
For Notre Dame to win, they’ll have to be at their most efficient on the offensive end.
“We’re going to have to score,” Fighting Irish head coach Mike Brey, a former Coach K proteg, said. “You’re not stopping them. They’re a gifted offensive team. We’ve got to put numbers on the board. We’ve got to score more than 77 to win (that game). Hopefully, we can slow them up a little bit, but we’re going to have to be really efficient offensively.”
If Brey’s squad wins tonight, they’ll have the program’s second ACC Tournament crown in three years.
Duke is aiming for its first tourney crown in six years, which would extend their record to 20 ACC tournament championships.