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ACC Tournament: No. 7 Duke outlasts N.C. State behind balanced effort

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One of the hottest debates of the late college basketball season was the ACC Player of the Year battle between T.J. Warren of North Carolina State and Jabari Parker of Duke.

Although Warren beat Parker for Player of the Year honors in the conference, Jabari and his Duke teammates might have gotten the last laugh as a balanced Blue Devil outing was the difference in No. 7 Duke’s 75-67 win on Saturday in the ACC Tournament semifinals in Greensboro.

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Parker and Warren led their respective teams in scoring on Saturday afternoon, but Jabari had more help from his Duke teammates on both ends of the floor and it was the difference in the game.

Parker, the All-American freshman, celebrated his birthday with 20 points and eight rebounds, but he was aided in the scoring column by solid outings from Rasheed Sulaimon (16 points), Quinn Cook (14 points) and Rodney Hood (14 points). Duke shot 57 percent from the field for the game and their balance all over the floor was evident throughout the win on Saturday.

After a red-hot first half that saw him score 13 points, Warren was slowed down significantly in the second half as he finished with 21 points and eight rebounds. No other Wolfpack starter finished in double-figures for the game, but Lennard Freeman (13 points) and Cat Barber (12 points) each added points off the bench.

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As Duke’s defense doubled T.J. Warren and prevented him from getting comfortable touches, they pulled away in the second half. Every time Warren put the ball on the floor, Duke’s defense collapsed and forced the star sophomore forward to make a play other than scoring. It ultimately limited N.C. State’s offense and now the Wolfpack will spend Selection Sunday sweating as they see if they’ll make it in the field of 68.

We’ve seen all season that Duke can put up points. With capable scorers like Jabari Parker and Rodney hood, getting buckets will never be an issue with this Blue Devil group. But if Duke defends like they did in the second half on Saturday, they become a championship contender. The Duke defense made it tough on Warren — one of the best and most efficient scorers in the country — in the second half and if they can stop a guy like him from doing significant damage than it is a very good sign entering the NCAA Tournament.

Duke advances to face No. 6 Virginia in the ACC Tournament title game on Sunday and both teams still have an outside shot at a No. 1 seed.

Utah lands top-75 center Jayce Johnson

Larry Krystkowiak
AP Photo
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Utah picked up its center of the future on Monday as four-star center Jayce Johnson pledged to the Runnin’ Utes, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The 7-foot Johnson recently cut his list to Cal, Colorado and Utah with the possibility of reclassifying to the Class of 2015.

Regarded as the No. 67 overall prospect in the Class of 2016, Johnson will look to attend Utah in December as a walk-on who will redshirt. While Johnson likely won’t play this season, he does give head coach Larry Krystkowiak another big man to use in practice to go against sophomore center Jakob Poeltl. A solid long-term prospect, Johnson has a good frame to add weight and he’s also skilled finishing with both hands. Utah now has its replacement for Poeltl if he opts to leave for the NBA after the season and he gets an extra semester to work with the program.

Johnson is coming off of his official visit to Utah this weekend as he joins junior college guard Jojo Zamora in the Class of 2016.


PHOTO: South Carolina gets new uniforms

Frank Martin
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South Carolina debuted some new uniforms early this week as the school is going with a fresh look and three color ways.

They’re also going to with the “Carolina” branding this season, but I think these new uniforms look pretty cool.