Coach K reaches ACC championship in his final tournament

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NEW YORK — Mike Krzyzewski’s last Atlantic Coast Conference tournament will end in the final game.

Paolo Banchero had 18 points and 11 rebounds and No. 7 Duke held off Miami with free throws in the final minute as the Blue Devils and their retiring Hall of Fame coach advanced to the ACC championship with an 80-76 victory Friday night.

Top-seeded Duke (28-5) will face the winner of the second semifinal between third-seeded North Carolina and seventh-seeded Virginia Tech in Saturday night’s championship at Barclays Center.

Banchero was asked during a postgame interview with ESPN who he wanted to face in the final and responded: “UNC.”

Krzyzewski put an end to that in his postgame news conference saying, “We’ll be honored to play either team.”

Less than a week ago, the Tar Heels upset Duke in Krzyzewski’s home finale to spoil the retirement party.

AJ Griffin, who went to high school just north of New York City in White Plains, scored 21 points, including three free throws in the final 20 seconds to seal Coach K’s 22nd appearance in the ACC title game.

Krzyzewski has won a conference-record 15 ACC championships, but he is trying hard to move the focus away from his farewell tour and onto his players.

“I’m trying to get away from all that, it’s really too much,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s their season. It’s all about them. I don’t want to be a distraction to them. They only get it once. I’ve had it numerous times.”

Kameron McGusty scored 24 points to lead the Hurricanes (23-10), who beat the Blue Devils on the road earlier this season and appear to be in solid shape for an NCAA Tournament bid.

The size and strength of the Blue Devils in the paint was hard to handle for the Hurricanes. Banchero, coming off a poor shooting game in a win against Syracuse that also went down to the wire, was 8 for 10 from the field with almost all of his damage coming inside.

“I was just out there playing, but doing it aggressively,” the star freshman said.

But Krzyzewski has been complaining about Duke’s defensive play recently and this was another soft performance on that end – until the last five minutes.

McGusty and Jordan Miller (17 points, 11 rebounds) got plenty of good looks on mid-range jumpers and near the rim. The two combined to shoot 19 for 35 as the Hurricanes finished 47 percent from the floor.

Sam Waardenburg made a corner 3 for Miami with 5 minutes left that tied the score at 65 with 5:00 left. The ‘Canes then went more than four minutes without another field goal.

Wendell Moore Jr. made two free throws for Duke with 58.6 seconds left to put the Blue Devils up 72-69.

Duke nudged the lead up to 77-71 with more free throws before another corner 3 by Waardenburg cut the lead to 3 with 16.7 seconds left, but the Hurricanes never got another chance to tie or take the lead.

The Hurricanes led by as many as 11 in the first half, but Griffin scored 12 straight points late for Duke and Jeremy Roach closed the half with a full-court dash and layup to tie it at 36.

Duke last won the ACC Tournament in 2019 with Zion Williamson. The Blue Devils also won the first ACC Tournament played in Brooklyn in 2017.

BIG PICTURE

Miami: The Hurricanes played a solid offensive game, but shot 6 for 12 from the line.

Duke: The Blue Devils did a lot of their best work off the dribble, which led to only nine assists on 29 field goals.

UP NEXT

Miami: The Hurricanes await their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2018.

Duke: The Blue Devils split two games against North Carolina this season. They opened the ACC season in December by beating Virginia Tech at home.