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Duke avoids a painful rerun

After nearly blowing a big lead, the Blue Devils hold off Georgia Tech 69-64 in the title game.

By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published March 14, 2005


WASHINGTON - It wasn't until after Duke guard J.J. Redick shook hands with the disappointed Georgia Tech players that it hit him:

How history looked as if it would replay itself ... and didn't.

He and his teammates, bedeviled by foul trouble, barely hung on to a 13-point lead in the waning minutes Sunday afternoon to nip the Yellow Jackets 69-64 before an announced 20,301 at the MCI Center and claim their sixth ACC tournament title in seven years.

Last year at this time in the same game, fouls also plagued the Blue Devils, who squandered a 12-point lead in the final 4:48 and lost to Maryland in overtime.

"I was getting ready to do an interview for a TV station, and I just kind of became emotional, and I thought back to the disappointment of last year and the feeling this year with this particular group of guys," said Redick, the tournament MVP after scoring a game-high 26 on Sunday.

Historical footnote: The Blue Devils also couldn't close out in the Final Four, squandering a nine-point lead with 4:44 to play and losing to eventual national champion Connecticut 79-78.

But not this time.

"I'm so proud of my team, not just for this game but for the whole season so far," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "They've found ways to win and have incredible heart."

The third-seeded Blue Devils (25-5), picked to finish fourth in the powerful ACC in the preseason, parlayed their strong defense anchored by junior center Shelden Williams (six blocks) into a commanding 56-43 lead with 7:26 left.

At least, it seemed commanding. The Yellow Jackets hadn't been shooting well (a season-low 29.6 percent), and star junior point guard Jarrett Jack had limped to the bench with a sprained left ankle a couple minutes earlier.

But Jack wasn't done, and neither were the fifth-seeded Yellow Jackets (19-11).

"It was painful, but we've fought so hard all weekend, I didn't want to let my team down," said Jack, who scored a team-high 19.

His jumper with 7:09 left ignited a rally. Senior guard Will Bynum, coming off a career-high 35 against North Carolina in the semifinals, followed with a driving layup and a free throw, then Jack hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 56-51 with 4:59 left. Seconds later, Duke senior guard Daniel Ewing, the team's main ball-handler, fouled out while charging into Jack.

"Oh, my god," Krzyzewski said he thought. "There was a lot of time left. I knew the next (almost) five minutes was going to be some of the longest five minutes of my career."

Tech, looking for its first tournament title since 1993, closed within 65-64 with 24.3 seconds to go, but Redick made two free throws, setting the stage for a wild ending. Bynum missed a 3-pointer from the right corner, and lightly used freshman forward David McClure got the rebound and was fouled with 4.1 seconds left.

"It felt good," Bynum lamented. "It was a good shot. It just didn't fall."

McClure, who had made 7 of 11 free throws this season, missed both. But Williams seemingly got away with a shove on 7-1 center Luke Schenscher, a good gamble even if a foul had been called given Duke's working margin and Schenscher's poor free-throw shooting (63.5 percent), and tipped in the miss.

It was Duke's lone basket in the last 11:14.

"I didn't see it," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said tersely.

"If he would have blocked me out, I wouldn't have gotten the rebound," Williams said. "I jumped straight up and got the tip-in."

And a different ending.