Marilyn Payne

Blue Devils are 'becoming' as Duke delivers in ACC Tournament

Posted March 10
Updated March 11

Duke did it again. A second consecutive second-half rally earned the Blue Devils its third straight win Friday, 93-83, against rival North Carolina.

Roy Williams' team (27-7) led Mike Krzyzewski's (26-8) by double digits in the second half of a seemingly controlled game, but the ACC Tournament's No. 5 seed just needed a moment to turn the corner again.

Carolina point guard Joel Berry left the game after picking up his fourth foul with about 15 minutes to play, then his team scored five straight points. Kennedy Meeks -- who led No. 1 seed North Carolina in the first half with 15 points -- gave the Tar Heels their largest lead of the game 61-48.

But Jayson Tatum dunked on Duke's next trip down the floor and Krzyzewski asked for a break "just to get rested."

The game changed from there.

Luke Kennard sank a three-pointer and knocked down the free throw for a four-point play. The Blue Devils never looked back.

The Tatum-Kennard back-to-back started a 20-4 Blue Devils scoring run that turned a 13-point hole into a three-point advantage for Duke.

The conversation at halftime prepared Krzyzewski's team to takeover. Carolina dominated inside early, outscoring Duke in the paint 32-10, but the difference was simply effort.

"They were really just outworking us and being more physical than us," said Tatum, who led the team with 24 points. "Especially on the defensive end, we emphasized rebounding and the guards coming in."

Guards helped get it done, but the crescendo of the comeback was Harry Giles' best contribution of his young college career.

It was a block-dunk-dive on the floor for a steal series, which pushed Duke's lead to 77-70 with five and a half minutes to go, that stands out.

"I just threw myself out there on defense," Giles said. "I was just trying to go out there and give us some energy. It's showing how we play."

After beating Clemson Wednesday, Krzyzewski said he wanted more out of his young bigs. When Jefferson picked up his fourth foul with around 10 minutes to play, K got the "more" he's been waiting for from the guy labeled as the best freshman in the nation entering the season.

"I just told him that he's really good, and it doesn't matter if he's coming off the bench," Grayson Allen said. "I said, 'You might be playing limited minutes, you might feel like a role player, but you're not. You're extremely talented, and when you get out there, act like it. Don't be shy."

Giles finished with seven rebounds, like Tatum, six points, half of his team's eight blocks and a steal in just 15 minutes.

Six of his rebounds were on UNC's end of the floor. One of those ended up in Frank Jackson's hands has he sank the shot to give Duke its first lead -- and the lead that held.

"He was just out there leaving his heart, his soul on the floor for his team," Jefferson said. "He's becoming and because he's becoming, we're becoming. That's a beautiful thing to say at this point in the season."

The heralded rookie is the third member of his class to become a game-changer, joining starters Tatum and Jackson from his spot on the bench to a lineup of dominating, but still-developing first-year guys.

Their progress is part of Krzyzewksi's team, "showing people who they thought (Duke was) supposed to be in October," Tatum believes.

Back-to-back rallies put Duke in Saturday's ACC Tournament Championship with the hopes of becoming the first No. 5 seed team to ever win the week.

"We knew it was going to be a dog fight, we've lost to North Carolina and Louisville," Tatum said. "For us to be down (double figures) in both games and come back just shows the heart of our team."

The once banged-up Blue Devils are in the program's first championship since 2014 and if they become the first team in ACC history to win four games in four days, they'll win the first tourney title since 2011.

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