Tatum Leads Duke to ACC Title over Irish
Irish now look ahead to NCAA Tournament
Duke freshman forward Jayson Tatum led the way with 19 points in the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament championship, as the Blue Devils (27-8) pulled away late to win 75-69 against an Irish squad that was attempting to win its second ACC title in three years.
Sophomore guard and ACC Tournament MVP Luke Kennard added 16 points for the Blue Devils, while graduate student and forward Amile Jefferson chipped in with 14 points.
The Irish (25-9) were led by junior forward Bonzie Colson, whose 29 points and nine rebounds led all players in both categories.
The win gives Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski a record 14 ACC titles, breaking a tie with the late North Carolina head coach Dean Smith. Krzyzewski also improved to 2-5 all-time against his former assistant and current Irish head coach Mike Brey.
Krzyzewski commended Brey’s Irish team after the game for their strong performance.
“We were exhausted tonight,” Krzyzewski said in a postgame interview with ESPN. “[Notre Dame] grinds you, and they’re so good, they’re such good basketball players. Mike [Brey] does such a good job with them.”
The Blue Devils led throughout most of the first half, but Colson cut the lead to two points with just over six seconds remaining in the period on a layup assisted by junior guard Matt Farrell. Colson was fouled on the play and made the subsequent free throw, giving the Irish a brief spurt of momentum. However, Blue Devils junior guard Grayson Allen ended the run with a buzzer-beating shot to end the half, giving his team a four-point lead.
The Irish started strong in the second half, gaining the lead early in the period and building upon it with key plays from Colson. With just under 13 minutes to play in the half, Colson dexterously stole the ball from Allen near midcourt, a sequence that ultimately led to a dunk from senior forward V.J. Beachem to give the Irish a seven-point lead.
Jefferson added a few crucial scores to close the gap and eventually grab a small lead for the Blue Devils with under ten minutes to play in the second half. However, the Blue Devils were quieted when Colson hit a three-point shot with just over two minutes remaining to tie the game at 65.
Tatum took over under the two-minute mark, first blocking an attempted shot by Irish senior guard Steve Vasturia, then assisting on a three-pointer by senior guard Matt Jones that put the Blue Devils ahead by four. With 25 seconds remaining, Tatum ran ahead of the Irish defense and made a dunk that kept the Blue Devils in the lead for good.
Kryszewski credited his team’s simplified approach in the last ten minutes of the second half to help them overcome what was at one point an eight-point Irish lead midway through the half.
“We didn’t call any plays,” Krzyzewski added. “We just told our guys, ‘Be you,’ and that’s who they’ve been this tournament, and ‘being you’ is being a champion.”
Brey was impressed by Tatum’s performance, and he praised the presumptive top-10 NBA draft pick’s overall talent and his improvement throughout the ACC season.
“I think he’s the best freshman,” Brey said in his postgame press conference. “I’ve seen a bunch of them play. To see his improvement has been really interesting to watch through the league… He’s really long and big. And then he’s got the ability to shoot a jump shot and put it on the floor.”
Colson was dominant for the Irish in the first half, scoring 15 of the team’s 34 points in the period. His 29 points were just four short of the career-high mark of 33 he set in February against Florida State.
However, the team lacked significant scoring contributions from their bench, which was held without a single made field goal and whose only scoring came from two made free throws by sophomore forward Matt Ryan.
Vasturia also struggled, shooting 2-9 from the field and scoring only five points, well below his season-average 13.3 points per game.
Farrell had a strong performance for the Irish, scoring 13 points and adding seven assists. Beachem (15 points) and sophomore guard Rex Pflueger (five points) were the only other Irish players to score in the game.
The Irish will move on to the NCAA Tournament in their first-round matchup against the Ivy League’s Princeton Tigers. The game will tip off on March 16th at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York.
Brennan Buhr is a first-year political science major. Unlike some of his friends and classmates, Brennan enjoys getting at least 8 hours of sleep on most days. He is an 85% free-throw shooter. Contact Brennan at firstname.lastname@example.org.