Greensboro, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - Top-25 foes collide in the ACC Tournament's semifinals, as second-ranked and second-seeded Duke takes on 11th-ranked and third-seeded Notre Dame at the Greensboro Coliseum on Friday evening.
The winner of this game will play for the ACC title on Saturday against either North Carolina or Virginia.
Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils closed out the regular season with 11 straight victories, but came up just short in capturing the ACC regular-season title. Duke got its postseason off on the right foot in Thursday's quarterfinals, with a lopsided 77-53 win over NC State. The winningest team in ACC Tournament history, Duke has 19 tournament titles and an impressive 94-42 tournament record.
Mike Brey's Irish were in the hunt for the regular-season crown as well, finishing just behind Virginia and Duke. The team's 26 wins prior to tournament play marked the most for Notre Dame since the 1908-09 team (33). The Irish looked strong early in their quarterfinal game on Thursday, but had to hold off a charging Miami-Florida squad, for a 70-63 win. It was the team's first-ever ACC Tournament victory.
Notre Dame knocked off Duke, 77-73 in South Bend on Jan. 28, but the Blue Devils returned the favor with a 90-60 rout of the Irish in Durham on Feb. 7.
The Irish are one of the few teams that can give Duke a run for its money at the offensive end of the floor. It starts with All-ACC First-Team selection Jerian Grant, who entered the postseason averaging 16.8 ppg and an ACC-best 6.7 apg. Grant wasn't the only player to earn all-conference honors. Fellow senior Pat Connaughton (12.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg) earned third-team honors this year, while Demetrius Jackson (12.5 ppg), Zach Auguste (12.5 ppg) and Steve Vasturia (9.4 ppg) add to the team's scoring deluge.
Notre Dame got off to a fast start and took a 43-25 lead into the break against Miami, but the Irish had to withstand a 22-4 Miami run that tied the game in the second half, before regaining control in the waning moments to earn the seven-point victory on Thursday. The Irish shot .488 from the field and hit nine 3-pointers in the win. Five players notched double figures in the scoring column for Notre Dame, led by Vasturia's 16 points. Connaughton finished with 14 points, followed by Grant (13 pts), Jackson (12 pts) and Auguste (11 pts).
The Blue Devils are lethal, headlined by ACC Player of the Year Jahlil Okafor (17.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg). Other Blue Devils that received All-ACC honors are veteran guard Quinn Cook (second team) and freshmen Tyus Jones (third team) and Justise Winslow (honorable mention). Quinn is a perfect complement to Okafor's interior dominance, thanks to his stellar perimeter game as he poured in 16.0 ppg during the regular season, shooting .404 from behind the arc. Winslow put up 12.4 ppg this year, while Jones can both score (11.8 ppg) and distribute (5.7 apg) at a high rate.
The Blue Devils certainly made a statement, getting some revenge from one of their three losses on the season by blasting the Wolfpack on Thursday night. A balanced effort was achieved as Duke shot a sizzling .566 from the floor. Six Blue Devils notched double figures in the win, led by Cook's 15 points. Marshall Plumlee netted a career-high 12 points, followed by Winslow (11 pts), Grayson Allen (11 pts), Matt Jones (11 pts) and Okafor (10 pts). Coach K was able to rest Okafor for much of the second half.