Duke's experience trumps UNC's youth in ACC tournament title game
Nolan Smith picks up tournament MVP while leading Blue Devils on offensive and defensive ends
Duke and North Carolina and Nolan Smith and Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski and Kyle Singler and John Henson and Kendall Marshall and Harrison Barnes
Duke's experience trumps UNC's youth in ACC title game
Two guys dressed in different shades of blue bumped into each other Sunday on the Greensboro Coliseum court in the moments leading up to tipoff of the Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball tournament championship game.
It was more than just a chance meeting. There was a motive. North Carolina coach Roy Williams was trying to get a feel for how the toe Duke senior guard Nolan Smith injured in the tournament quarterfinals against Maryland was feeling.
"I said, 'Nolan, how is your toe?' " Williams said. "He said 'fine,' and I said 'shucks' or 'darn.' "
An all-too appropriate reaction given what was about to take place. Smith, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, had 20 points, 10 assists and two steals to lead tournament second seed Duke to a 75-58 victory against top seed UNC and give coach Mike Krzyzewski his 13th conference title.
"I thought it was our best game of the season," said Krzyzewski, whose team shot 50 percent from the floor, including 9 for 20 from 3-point range.
Duke (30-4) grabbed a double digit lead within the first nine minutes and stayed ahead by nine or more the rest of the way. The Blue Devils shot 62 percent in the first half, while the Tar Heels made just 30 percent and trailed 42-28 by halftime.
After falling behind by 17 in the first nine minutes of the second half, UNC (26-7) responded with a 13-5 run, including a jumper from freshman Harrison Barnes with 6:01 left that cut Duke's advantage to 63-54.
Duke took all the drama out of the final minutes by going on a 12-2 run started via a 3-pointer from Seth Curry with 5:40 left. Smith had four points and three assists in the last six minutes, but Krzyzewski was more impressed with the job Smith did defensively against freshman point guard Kendall Marshall, who committed five of UNC's 16 turnovers.
"As much as Nolan did offensively, I thought his defense made him MVP for this tournament," Krzyzewski said.
Smith said he watched film from Duke's 81-67 loss at UNC on March 5 and noticed he was playing as much as six feet off Marshall at times. Smith focused on closing that gap in the ACC tournament title game.
"We just decided to get into those guys," Smith said.
Smith's defense may have set the tone, but Marshall wasn't the only UNC player to struggle. Barnes, who scored 40 points against Clemson in the tournament semifinals, had 16 against Duke on 6 for 15 shooting.
"We got (Barnes) to go ways he wouldn't necessarily like to go," said Duke senior Kyle Singler, who had 11 points and eight rebounds. "When a player comes off a game like that (against Clemson), you've got to be aware because he's hot and he's probably more confident."
After the game, Williams pulled Marshall aside and talked about how Nevada-Las Vegas laid a 103-73 pasting on Duke in the 1990 national championship game. Williams highlighted how badly a freshman point guard named Bobby Hurley played in that game, scoring just two points while playing with a stomach virus.
Hurley earned revenge against UNLV in the '91 championship game, and added another title to his resume in '92.
"(Hurley) learned from it and became a big-time, big-time, big-time player," said Williams, who got 10 points and 18 rebounds from John Henson in the ACC title game. "I told Kendall that I expected him to do the same thing."
Marshall posted the message "I apologize to the Tar Heel Nation for my subpar play. You deserve better" on his Twitter account after the game. He listened intently to Williams' words.
"It's kind of encouraging," Marshall said. "(Hurley) had to learn in a national championship. I had to learn in a conference championship."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun