The No. 7 Duke Blue Devils took care of business against the North Carolina State Wolfpack on Saturday at the Greensboro Coliseum with a 75-67 win to set up a clash with the No. 6 Virginia Cavaliers in the ACC tournament championship game.
Owners of the biggest upset in the ACC tournament so far thanks to a victory in the quarterfinals over No. 11 Syracuse and riding a four-game winning streak, the Wolfpack simply did not have the legs to run with the Blue Devils for a full 40 minutes.
It didn't help that Duke shot better than 57 percent from the field and nailed 7-of-17 attempts from long distance. All things considered, NC State's 49.1 percent from the field was a quality number, although a 2-of-14 line from behind the arc was a major reason for the score discrepancy.
For the Wolfpack, it was a one-man show as sophomore T.J. Warren scored 21 points and grabbed eight boards in a noble effort. It was a more well-rounded approach for the Blue Devils, with four players scoring in double figures, led by Jabari Parker's 20 points.
The first half was a good barometer as to what a wild ride the entire game was going to be. North Carolina State was an impressive 16-of-24 shooting from the floor with 13 points from Warren—but was still down 39-38 at the end of the half.
Credit Duke's impressive shooting for that. In an impressive collective effort, the Blue Devils shot 50 percent from the field to help mitigate a close battle on the boards.
As expected, the battle between Parker and Warren with so much at stake proved worthy of the pre-game hype, as pointed out by Chronicle Sports:
HALFTIME REPORT: A matchup between Jabari Parker and TJ Warren is living up to the hype as Duke holds a 39-38 lead https://t.co/4QNrFqAMuw— Chronicle Sports (@chroniclesports) March 15, 2014
Things got ugly in the second half.
Duke kept a slight edge through the opening minutes, but an electric dunk from Parker set the tone, as SportsCenter points out:
Jabari Parker throw it DOWN! That'll make the #SCtop10. Duke leads NC State 49-45 in 2nd half behind Parker's 15 Pts, 5 Reb.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 15, 2014
The writing was on the wall. With Warren appearing as the only composed player for the Wolfpack, things stared to unravel fast. Andrew Jones of Fox Sports put it best:
State can't allow itself to lose mentally right now, but it's trending that way. #ACCTourney— Andrew Jones (@AJonesACC) March 15, 2014
The dunk from Parker spurred a 9-2 run to make it 58-47 in Duke's favor. Even worse, the red-hot shooting from the Wolfpack simply evaporated:
Behind two Rasheed Sulaimon jumpers, the Blue Devils extended the lead to 67-54.
From there, Duke was able to withstand a slight run by the Wolfpack, which saw Lennard Freeman score five straight on his own off the bench.
Unfortunately for NC State, the run meant little—Parker scored an offensive rebound and put it back for a slam to shut the door on any comeback hopes as the Wolfpack were simply too gassed at both ends of the court to finish strong. Jones was on point once more:
Not grabbing opponents' missed FTs won't help the cause. #ACCTourney— Andrew Jones (@AJonesACC) March 15, 2014
Duke effectively killed the clock en route to the 75-67 final.
Key Player Grades
Jabari Parker, Duke: A
As expected, Parker showed up huge in what amounted to an offensive showdown in the semifinals.
After scoring 18 or more points in his last two games, Parker posted 20 on the Wolfpack thanks to 8-of-15 shooting from the field to lead the team in scoring.
Not content with just scoring in bunches, Parker grabbed eight rebounds to also lead the team in that category.
T.J. Warren, North Carolina State: A
Warren was seemingly the only Wolfpack starter who showed up on Saturday.
Thanks to his 21 points on a 10-of-22 mark from the field, North Carolina State was able to stay close for the majority of the game.
Warren more than justified the praise Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski heaped on him to reporters before the game, via CBS Sports:
Warren is playing lights-out basketball. I mean, he's had a great year, but the last few weeks, last couple of weeks, you know, phenomenal is not exaggerating. He's been unbelievable, and he never seems to get tired.
Despite living up to the hype, Warren was unable to propel the Wolfpack to victory as he had done against the Orange the day prior.
Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke: B
Considering he entered the contest only averaging 9.6 points and 2.4 rebounds per game, Sulaimon's offensive outburst for 16 points was a welcome surprise on Saturday for the Blue Devils.
He finished second in terms of scoring, but his performance was a nice highlight on a day that had many—including a quiet 14 points from Quinn Cook off the bench.
Sulaimon represented the total team effort for Duke.
Which team wins the ACC tournament?
With the victory, Duke advances to take on the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers, a team the Blue Devils beat back in January by a score of 69-65. The Cavaliers are coming off a close victory over the Pittsburgh Panthers and might have trouble with Duke if they don't improve from long range.
For the Wolfpack, the loss didn't help their bubble status. For what it's worth, Dick Vitale believes the Wolfpack should make the Big Dance, as captured by ESPN:
"NC State belongs in the dance." - @DickieV— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) March 15, 2014
Warren and Co. will have to wait with bated breath on Selection Sunday to see if they go dancing.