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Duke drops FSU, wins ACC title

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Tre Jones scored 18 points and handed out six assists to help lead Duke to the ACC title. (USA TODAY Sports)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s all about championships. That’s the message Duke players have spread since the season started.

Earning them has not been simply a goal, they have been an expectation.

Saturday night, Duke met its first self-imposed expectation, defeating Florida State, 73-63, for the 2019 ACC Tournament championship.

And after a hard fought, tightly contested first half, the Blue Devils needed fewer than five minutes in the second half to begin taking control of the game.

When the first half concluded, the teams were locked up at 36 points apiece. And in order to leave the arena as champions, Duke was well aware of what it had to do to open the final 20 minutes of action.

“The first half, it was a tight ballgame,” Javin DeLaurier said. “We were 20 minutes away from going home disappointed or being champions of the ACC Tournament.”

“We really emphasized at halftime to come out in the second half and really punch them first,” RJ Barrett added. “So, once we got that, we were able to kind of sustain it throughout the rest of the half.”

The first four minutes of the second half were crucial for Duke, and with Florida State’s Terance Mann connecting on a 3-pointer just 23 seconds into the half, it looked like the Seminoles were ready to make a push themselves.

But Duke responded quickly.

Tre Jones attacked the basket and connected on his first two of 13 second half points. That cut Florida State’s brief three point lead to just one, at 39-38. Less than three minutes later, the Blue Devils had scored 10 straight points to go up by seven.

The Seminoles attempted to stop the Blue Devils from lengthening their run, and managed to keep them within arms reach until about the 14:35 point of the half.

That’s when Duke took things to another level. Just over three minutes later, the Blue Devils found themselves ahead by 14, 58-44. The run was sparked by a flurry of fast break points. And during that stretch, the Blue Devils believed they could smell blood in the water.

“Really that run in the second half ignited us,” Barrett said. “They started to come back and then Tre took off.”

For about the next six minutes, or at least the majority of them, Duke was able to sustain a double-digit lead. But Florida State had no plans of just lying down and allowing the Blue Devils to take the trophy without a fight.

In fact, the Seminoles managed to claw their way back into the game, and cut Duke’s lead to as few as five points with 4:43 remaining in the game.

During that stretch, however, it was all about Jones extending his game and becoming a scoring threat. He scored 10 points over a 12 minute stretch and was Duke’s biggest offensive weapon in the process.

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RJ Barrett and Javin DeLaurier celebrate after winning the ACC title. (Associated Press)

Jones, who finished the game 18 points, six assists and four rebounds, put together one of his most complete games of the season. And he did it by channeling a trait his older brother, Tyus, was known for - coming up big in the biggest of moments.

“It was great,” Barrett said. “It was needed. Tre’s out there scoring for us, it opens everything up for everybody else."

Jones sensed early on that Florida State was going to focus primarily on Zion Williamson and Barrett. While that is certainly par for the course, Jones is still not usually afforded the opportunities to get to the basket like he was Saturday night.

With the open lanes available, he was well aware that he had to change his approach.

“Early on in the game I saw they were helping off of me a lot, trying to plug gaps and helping onto Zion, especially, but RJ as well,” Jones said. “They took their chance on leaving me open and I knew I had to step up.”

Despite the heavy emphasis on Williamson and Barrett, the two still managed to do damage.

Williamson was yet again a model of efficiency. The ACC Tournament MVP scored 21 points, while grabbing seven rebounds and blocking two shots on the night. He also delivered two assists, one that he threw on a rope to Jones in transition.

Barrett scored 17, while grabbing nine rebounds and registering a team-high four steals. The freshman said the moment the Blue Devils believed they had the game won was with 11:21 remaining when Jones connected with him for a flush, putting them up 14 points and forcing FSU into a timeout.

“I think the last time I caught the lob from Tre, and they called a timeout, that was when we knew we had the game. We knew we just had to sustain the lead.”

Though Florida State did manage to cut into the lead, Duke did exactly what it needed to - held off the surge and extended its lead in the final stretch.

Cam Reddish, who had struggled shooting the ball all tournament long, was key in extending the lead late and sealing the deal for Duke.

With 1:24 to go, he made his first and only 3-pointer of the game to put Duke up 12.

DeLaurier was also key for Duke, as he finished the day with six points, seven rebounds and two steals.

“I thought Javin had his best game tonight, especially against their big guys,” Mike Krzyzerwski said. “He rebounded well. He was talking on defense. He came up with some - he finished. He’s played well, but tonight I thought was one of his best games, if not his best game.”

Overall, Duke played a strong team game - with each player contributing in significant ways. And against a team as deep, and talented as Florida State, that was what it was going to take from the jump to win.

It couldn’t simply be a Zion Williamson, or RJ Barrett show. Others had to step up and they did.

“I feel like playing in Maui we did that,” Barrett said of his team letting the big moment slip away, and not carry over strong semifinal play to the title game. “Three games in three days and we came up short. So we didn’t want to feel that feeling again.

“We said we’re not going to do that again. We’ve got to come out of here with a win.”