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March 14, 2008

Duke a step closer to possible ACC title

» MORE: Rivals.com Daily Bubble Watch | Drive for 65: Forecasting the Field | Play Tourney Pick'em

DUKE 82, GEORGIA TECH 70

OVERVIEW: Jon Scheyer scored 18 points and DeMarcus Nelson added 17 as the second-seeded Blue Devils gradually pulled away in the second half after Georgia Tech had whittled a 20-point deficit down to a single basket. "We knew this would be a difficult game because, outside of North Carolina, I think Georgia Tech was the hottest team in our league and playing the best basketball," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. Duke led by as many as 20 points and had outrebounded Tech 21-9 in the first half, but the Yellow Jackets cut the lead to 52-50 with 13:38 remaining. Duke responded by scoring six consecutive points to avoid further danger. "That was as much game pressure as we've had all season long," Krzyzewski said. "You feel like you're in control and three minutes later, it's crazy. I tried to tell our kids after the game that's the way the postseason is. Nobody wants to go away. You have to put them away."

THE BIG PICTURE: Duke (27-4) moved one step closer to an ACC Tournament title, which is probably necessary for the Blue Devils to have any chance of earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Most forecasts currently have Duke receiving a No. 2 seed.

TURNING POINT: After Tech cut Duke's lead to two points, the Blue Devils' best player made sure the Yellow Jackets never got any closer. Nelson drew a foul and sank the first of two free throws to extend Duke's lead to 53-50 with 13:17 left in the game. About 30 seconds later, Duke forward Kyle Singler made a steal and passed to Nelson, who sank a baseline 3-pointer from in front of Duke's bench to give the Blue Devils a six-point advantage. Nelson finished the night with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. "He was just being a senior," Georgia Tech forward Jeremis Smith said. "He knew this was his last ACC tournament. … He knew he had to turn to his team and be a senior, be a captain out there like he is."

WHAT'S NEXT: Duke advances to a semifinal matchup Saturday at 4 p.m. against No. 3 seed Clemson. The Blue Devils won 93-80 at home against Clemson on Jan. 19 and knocked off Boston College 90-80 at home on Feb. 9. The season is almost certainly over for Georgia Tech (15-17), which hurt itself by going 7-7 in its non-conference schedule. "I thought this team made steady progress," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "The mistake I made was before the season. We scheduled at Connecticut, at Indiana, at Vanderbilt. Confidence, especially when you have a freshman point guard and a new point guard, is very important."

NOTES: Duke has won 23 of its past 25 meetings with Georgia Tech. …Duke is seeking to reach the ACC championship game for the 10th time in the last 11 years. The Blue Devils' 85-80 overtime loss to N.C. State in the opening round last year ended a string of nine consecutive championship game appearances. …. Singler picked up two fouls in the first 31 seconds of the game, forcing the Blue Devils to play the majority of the first half without their second-leading scorer. Georgia Tech failed to take advantage and trailed 28-16 by the time Singler returned to the game with 8:41 remaining in the first half. … Nelson's seven assists matched a career high he had set in an 82-58 victory over Wisconsin on Nov. 27.

Video Highlights: Duke 82, Georgia Tech 70

CLEMSON 82, BOSTON COLLEGE 48

OVERVIEW: Boston College's inability to handle third-seeded Clemson's full-court pressure prevented the 11th-seeded Eagles from having a chance of delivering a second consecutive upset. Clemson scored 38 points off 22 Boston College turnovers on its way to recording the most one-sided ACC tournament victory since Duke's 104-67 first-round thrashing of Virginia in 1999. "Our pressure defense was as good as it's been all year long, which is really good to see," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. Clemson center James Mays scored 15 points to lead the Tigers, who finished the night with 50 points in the paint. Clemson (23-8) scored 25 points off turnovers in the first half alone and kept the Eagles (14-17) on their heels throughout the evening. One night after rallying from a 15-point deficit to stun No. 6 seed Maryland 71-68, the Eagles didn't have the energy to keep up with Clemson's pressure. "It wasn't the best opponent for us to play," Boston College coach Al Skinner said, "but we still should have responded a little bit better than we did. We just did not meet the challenge. It's that simple."

THE BIG PICTURE: Clemson already has played well enough this season to earn its first NCAA Tournament invitation since 1998, but a semifinal victory over Duke could give the Tigers a much more favorable seeding. Clemson currently looks like a probable No. 6 seed. Boston College's string of four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances is about to end.

TURNING POINT: BC appeared ready to add another chapter to its Cinderella story when it scored the first six points, but that's as good as things would get for the Eagles. Clemson turned up its defensive intensity and went on a 19-0 run over the next four minutes. The Tigers' lead didn't drop below nine points the rest of the night.

WHAT'S NEXT: Clemson faces second-seeded Duke (27-4) in a semifinal Saturday at 4 p.m. Clemson lost 93-80 to Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Jan. 19. Clemson has lost to Duke 22 consecutive times and hasn't beaten the Blue Devils since an 86-82 overtime triumph at home on Jan. 7, 1997. "We're not going to be just satisfied with this win here," Mays said. "We came with a goal to come out and be able to win the ACC tournament. This is just one step."

NOTES: Clemson senior guard Cliff Hammonds has been named the winner of the inaugural Skip Prosser Award, which goes to the ACC's top scholar-athlete in men's basketball. Hammonds, a five-time Dean's List honoree, holds a 3.21 grade point average as a double major in architecture and psychology. … Clemson hasn't been seeded this high in an ACC tournament since 1990, which represents the only time the Tigers have entered the tournament as the top seed. Clemson lost 69-66 to Virginia in the semifinals that season. … Clemson is seeking to make just its second appearance in the ACC tournament championship game. The Tigers lost the 1962 final 77-66 to a Wake Forest team that featured Billy Packer as its point guard. … Tyrese Rice led Boston College with 15 points, which marked the 21st consecutive game in which he has scored in double figures.

Video Highlights: Clemson 82, Boston College 48

NORTH CAROLINA 82, FLORIDA STATE 70

OVERVIEW: Tyler Hansbrough scored 22 points and Wayne Ellington added 19 points Friday as top-seeded North Carolina utilized its superior depth to wear down No. 9 seed Florida State in an ACC tournament quarterfinal. North Carolina capitalized on Florida State's lack of frontcourt depth by getting Seminoles forwards Ryan Reid and Julian Vaughn in foul trouble early in the second half. The Tar Heels already were in the double bonus with 9:54 left in the game and went to the free-throw line 21 times in the second half. "We were more aggressive offensively in the second half than we were in the first half," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "We settled too much for outside jump shots in the first half as opposed to getting the ball inside by a dribble or pass." The Tar Heels withstood an exceptional performance from FSU guard Jason Rich, who followed up his 22-point outburst in a first-round victory over Wake Forest by scoring 23 points Friday.

THE BIG PICTURE: North Carolina (30-2) probably has assured itself of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If the Tar Heels win the ACC Tournament title, they could end up as the top overall seed in the NCAA field. "I don't get caught up in it, and I don't talk to my team about that," Williams said. "Until this week – I'll never hit another golf ball if this is a lie – until this week, I didn't know where the regionals were. I (just) knew there was one in the state of North Carolina." FSU (19-14) almost certainly watched its NCAA Tournament hopes fade away Friday, which means the Seminoles likely will be left out for the 10th consecutive season. "I think it's a long shot at this point," Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton said.

TURNING POINT: The score was tied at 20 midway through the first half. FSU had numerous opportunities to take the lead during that stretch, but the Seminoles failed to take advantage. The Seminoles scored just two points and didn't make a single basket for a six-minute stretch late in the first half as UNC pulled ahead for good. "We had good looks and layups in the first half," Hamilton said. "I think we were so anxious and trying so hard that we just didn't finish the plays. Against a great basketball team with as much talent as they have, when those opportunities are available during the course of a game and you don't take advantage of them, they add up because you're constantly trying to battle from a disadvantage."

WHAT'S NEXT: North Carolina will face No. 4 seed Virginia Tech (19-12) in a semifinal matchup Saturday at 1:30 p.m. The Tar Heels whipped Virginia Tech 92-53 in Chapel Hill on Feb. 16.

NOTES: North Carolina defeated Florida State for the ninth consecutive time. Florida State last beat the Tar Heels 90-81 in Tallahassee on Jan. 22, 2004. … The Tar Heels also eliminated the Seminoles in last season's ACC quarterfinals. … This marks the 21st time North Carolina has entered the ACC tourney as the No. 1 seed. North Carolina has won as the top seed nine times. … North Carolina has won the ACC tournament just two of the past nine times it has been played in Charlotte, even though the Tar Heels have an all-time record of 164-18 in the city. … FSU hasn't reached the tourney semifinals since 1992, its first year in the league.

Video Highlights: North Carolina 82, Florida State 70

» MORE: Rivals.com Daily Bubble Watch | Drive for 65: Forecasting the Field | Play Tourney Pick'em



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