(AP) — Duke still has more left to do in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
After an exhausting and thrilling victory against their biggest rival, the fifth-ranked Blue Devils enter Saturday night’s championship game against No. 12 Florida State at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C.
“I think it’s more of getting them physically ready,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said following his team’s 74-73 triumph against third-ranked North Carolina in Friday night’s semifinals. “Because it’s two exhausting days in a row, and if we want to win in the tournament, you have to win two big-time games in three days.”
Duke goes from one classic outcome to a rematch from another thrilling finish from more than two months ago.
The Blue Devils’ dramatic results this season included an 80-78 victory against Florida State on Jan. 12 in Tallahassee, Fla. Duke’s Cam Reddish made a 3-point basket in the final second to pull out the victory on that day, as standout forward Zion Williamson sat out the second half after getting poked in the eye.
More recently, Williamson returned from a sprained knee suffered Feb. 20 against North Carolina. His first two games back have come in the ACC tournament, as he poured in 29 points against Syracuse before notching 31, including the winning basket on a putback of his own missed shot, against the Tar Heels on Friday.
Third-seeded Duke (28-5) went to its bench with extended minutes for often seldom-used guard Jordan Goldwire and center Antonio Vrankovic in the North Carolina game. That could be vital if depth is a factor in the title game.
“I do have confidence in the guys and just ask them that, when their number’s called, to just be yourself and play your butt off,” Krzyzewski said.
Duke has an ACC-record 20 tournament titles. The Blue Devils have claimed the championship four previous times in Charlotte.
It couldn’t have worked out much better for fourth-seeded Florida State (27-6) to land in the title game by avenging a loss to No. 2 Virginia from early January. To beat the top-seeded team is another boost for the Seminoles, who were a combined 0-3 against Virginia, Duke and North Carolina in the regular season.
“We felt all along that we were capable, but we had to go and earn it,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “And I think it was an ideal situation for us because we had a chance to play one of the premier powers in the country that probably would have been ranked No. 1 in the country Monday, had they won the game.”
Florida State began 1-4 in ACC play before reeling off 12 wins in 13 games, and now will play for the championship.
“Now toward the end of the season, I think that we started getting a little better and I think that — I also think that the 1-4 start brought us closer together,” Hamilton said. “I thought it created a mindset that, hey look, we got to get busy.”
Duke is trying for its second ACC tournament championship in three years.
Florida State is in the championship game for the third time, but the first time since winning the 2012 event in Atlanta.
This marks the 23rd consecutive year in which either Duke or North Carolina is playing in the title game.
–Field Level Media