Duke ‘just didn’t give up’ en route to ACC tournament title
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Jon Scheyer stood on the stage, wiping his brow as he scanned the bubbly crowd while his Duke players danced around the ACC tournament championship trophy.
That’s when Kyle Filipowski walked up behind his coach and wrapped an arm around him.
The youthful Blue Devils — from their freshmen to their 35-year-old rookie head coach — could savor a moment that felt oh so familiar for the blue-blood program.
Filipowski had 20 points and 10 rebounds as the tournament’s MVP and No. 21 Duke locked down defensively to beat No. 13 Virginia 59-49 in Saturday night’s ACC tournament championship game, securing a title in Scheyer’s debut season as the successor to Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“Coming in, everyone was talking about, ‘We’re too young, Scheyer’s first year,'” freshman guard Tyrese Proctor said while standing amid confetti strewn about the court. “We just stuck together all year and just didn’t give up.”
Jeremy Roach scored 19 of his career-high 23 points after halftime for the fourth-seeded Blue Devils (26-8), who completed a final-month surge to the top of the ACC to claim a league-record 22nd championship.
Only now, it’s with the former Blue Devils player and assistant coach in charge.
Scheyer spent last year as the coach-in-waiting for Krzyzewski’s last Final Four run, assembled the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class and then masterfully led that group through youthful ups and downs to enter the NCAA tournament on a nine-game winning streak.
Yes, he said, the new players who arrived this season or returned from last year wanted to be part of Duke’s tradition. But it was also a leap of faith at a pivotal moment of change for the program too.
“They believed in us and in me,” Scheyer said, “and obviously I felt that way about each of them.”
It all had Scheyer soaking up the scene of celebrating fans from his midcourt-stage perch and basking in “a surreal feeling.” That includes becoming the first to win an ACC tournament title as both a player and a coach and only the third first-year coach to claim the title.
Duke’s winning streak began after an overtime loss at Virginia in which a league-acknowledged officiating error cost the Blue Devils a chance to win in regulation. This time, Duke grinded its way through to the horn by leaning on a defense-first approach that Scheyer has pushed all season.
The Blue Devils held the second-seeded Cavaliers (25-7) to 33% shooting, with Virginia missing both contested and clean looks while committing nearly as many turnovers (12) as made shots (16).
“Their length and athleticism was real, and I think at times it sped us up,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “And we were at times a little bit uncharacteristic or a bit rushed. I think they sat down and guarded. We sat down and tried to guard hard, and there just wasn’t a whole lot there.”
The Blue Devils never trailed, leading by as many as 14 points and keeping the Cavaliers — playing a methodical pace and their own defensive-minded style — working to inch closer all night.
Reece Beekman scored 12 points for Virginia, which drew to within six on Isaac McKneely’s 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 5 seconds remaining and within five on Kihei Clark’s layup off a scramble with 1:07 left. Finally, Beekman pulled Virginia to within 53-49 on a driving layup around Filipowski with 44 seconds left.
But the Blue Devils didn’t wobble, hitting six straight free throws to clinch the win. Roach, a junior, hit four of those, turning in a veteran’s composure on a freshman-laden team reminiscent of some of his big postseason moments during last year’s Final Four run.
Scheyer finally started to wave an arm to the Duke fans behind the bench for noise with freshman Mark Mitchell preparing to go to the line for the final free throws with 22.1 seconds left.
Moments later, Scheyer began exchanging handshakes and high-fives with his staff as Proctor dribbled out the clock. The horn sounded and Proctor flung the ball skyward, screaming as the players began to mob each other for the first title in Duke’s new era.