Going into Saturday night’s ACC Championship game, both Duke and Notre Dame had much to play for besides a conference title. For Duke, an up and down season would be capped off with a phenomenal run through the ACC Tournament and most likely a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Notre Dame was looking for respect as it seemed that the Irish hasn’t received the due they believe they deserve.
In the end, Duke fought off fatigue in their fourth game in four days to win the ACC Championship over Notre Dame 75-69 in a classic at the Barclays Center. The win gave Duke its 20th ACC Tournament title in school history and Mike Krzyzewski won his 14th ACC Tournament title in his career.
The first half saw a hot shooting Duke team attempt to throw an early knockout punch to the Irish as the Blue Devils took an early 8-2 lead. Notre Dame fought back but unlike the North Carolina game plan in the first half against Duke, Notre Dame took long range shots instead of going inside. That led to 39 percent shooting in the first half for the Irish, including 4-of-12 from behind the arc.
“I think we got the usual great looks we’re used to getting,” said Notre Dame forward V.J. Beacham. “We might have been a little tired, but we just didn’t knock them down.”
Duke was led by Luke Kennard who scored nine points in the first half as the Blue Devils shot 55 percent from the field. Harry Giles also continued his confident play in the first 20 minutes of play as he finished the half with four points and four rebounds. The final 2-plus minutes of the first half featured a two minute scoring drought for the Blue Devils that saw Notre Dame cut the Duke lead to 38-34 at halftime.
Notre Dame started the second half by outscoring Duke 11-6 as they took a 45-44 at the first media timeout of the half. Rex Pflueger led the Irish charge scoring five of the 11 points as Notre Dame began to hit some of the same shots they were missing in the first half. Duke took the lead back after Kennard jumper gave the Blue Devils a 46-45 lead.
After Duke took the lead, Notre Dame went on a 8-0 run to take a 53-46 lead. One of the big changes for Notre Dame was their renewed emphasis on getting the ball inside and scoring in the paint. It was also becoming apparent that fatigue may have began to set in for Duke. Thanks to Amile Jefferson’s two baskets midway through the half and Frank Jackson three-point field goal, the Blue Devils were able to keep the score close at 58-55 in favor of Notre Dame.
It was later revealed that for the final 10 minutes of the game, Krzyzewski did not call a single play.
“I know they were really tired, and so by taking ownership and attacking like that, they made it work. We’ve done that in each of the last three games but not as long as today. I know they looked over, just motion. Motion. Come on, Coach. Come up with a really good play. Motion, motion. And it worked.”
The game continued to go back and forth throughout the second half as Notre Dame leaned on Colson down the stretch. Duke had different contributors late such as Matt Jones, Frank Jackson and others. But the player that took over the game was freshman Jayson Tatum who scored ten points in the final minutes to lead Duke to the victory.
“You know, he (Tatum) plays with the poise and pace now of an older player,” said Notre Dame coach Brey about Tatum. “I think they’ve done great job bringing him along, putting him in situations where he can be really successful. He’s an amazingly gifted guy, and he has a great demeanor.”
Duke was led by Tatum who finished with 19 points and eight rebounds. Luke Kennard finished his outstanding tournament with 16 points while Amile Jefferson poured in 14 for the Blue Devils. This was the first time in ACC Tournament history that a No. 5 seed won the tournament and the first time that a team has won the tournament after four consecutive wins.
Notre Dame was led by Bonzie Colson who finished with a game-high 29 points and nine rebounds. The Irish was hampered by poor shooting throughout the game as they shot 40 percent from the field as they now await their NCAA Tournament.
ACC Tournament MVP
Luke Kennard, Duke
ALL-ACC Tournament Team
Luke Kennard, Duke
Jayson Tatum, Duke
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Matt Farrell, Notre Dame
Isaiah Hicks, North Carolina
Grayson Allen, Duke
Frank Jackson, Duke
Amile Jefferson, Duke
Steve Vasturia, Notre Dame
Zach LeDay, Virginia Tech