Winning tournament never gets old for Duke

Staff columnistMarch 14, 2010 

Duke's Kyle Singler dives into press row after chasing down a loose ball during the first half against Georgia Tech.

ETHAN HYMAN — ETHAN HYMAN - ehyman@newsobserver.com

— teammate Nolan Smith in triumph.

If the rest of the ACC is a little tired of Duke winning the conference tournament, it never seems to get old for the Blue Devils, who won for the ninth time in 12 years and second year in a row.

Jon Scheyer’s dagger of a 3-pointer with 18 seconds to go was the big moment in the 65-61 win over Georgia Tech, but Singler did much of the work to get the Devils to that point.

When he wasn’t torpedoing head-first into the laps of ESPN’s Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale, coming away with a large red welt on his shoulder and a line of bruises down his shooting arm, Singler was carrying the Blue Devils when Scheyer and Nolan Smith struggled at times – not just Sunday, but throughout the weekend.

“I’ve fallen harder before,” Singler said. “It was nothing really too bad. I’m not banged up or hurt. If anything, it felt good.”

Singler’s leap was the representative moment of a tournament that was all drama, no aesthetics. Eight winners had more turnovers than assists and shooting percentages – both from the floor and from the line – were historically bad this weekend. Yet only one game was a blowout, upsets abounded and the final three games of the tournament were decided by three, three and four points.

While some of the play may have appalled basketball purists, it made for captivating viewing and offered some unexpected moments of beauty: Duke freshman Andre Dawkins shaking off Scheyer, then driving the lane from top to bottom for a one-handed flush; the high-rising, follow-up slam by Dennis Horner, in what might have been his final game, during N.C. State’s semifinal loss to the Yellow Jackets Saturday night.

Then there was Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech’s freshman powerhouse, who willed his team into the finals. Already voted the league’s freshman of the year, Favors averaged 17.0 points and 9.8 rebounds over four games in a dominant inside performance.

“Someone said a long time ago, the best thing about freshmen is they turn into sophomores,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. “He’s basically a sophomore right now.”

Unfortunately for Hewitt, that’s only true for the moment. Favors will almost certainly be playing in the NBA next year, and during this tournament he looked more than ready. In the end, he lost out to Singler for MVP honors, but rightfully so.

Singler easily could have won that award over Scheyer last year, when he played all 120 minutes of the tournament. He had 10 minutes of rest this year, but he didn’t take any after his hurtling foray into the cheapest seats of all.

That’s why the Blue Devils have won so many of these tournaments, simply because doing whatever it takes to win has become part of Duke’s DNA.

“I know a lot of people say the tournament maybe doesn’t mean that much, but certainly it meant a lot to the two teams that were playing today,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, and while the ledger may have been even Sunday, over the past decade Duke has made the tournament an absolute priority, with the results to show for it.

It wasn’t pretty, not by a long shot. But there was no shortage of tension, right to the end – when the Blue Devils won yet again, to no one’s surprise, least of all their own.

luke.decock@newsobserver.com, twitter.com/LukeDeCock or (919) 829-8947

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