ATLANTA (AP)—A year ago, as they walked off the court after another early exit from the NCAA tournament, Jon Scheyer and Gerald Henderson made sure to soak it all in. They didn’t want to forget how much it hurt. They didn’t want to forget how it felt to be denied a championship.
On Sunday, they finally got their title.
Led by its two junior stars, No. 9 Duke swamped upstart Florida State with a barrage of 3-pointers on the way to a 79-69 victory in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, giving the Blue Devils their eighth ACC crown in 11 years.
Scheyer scored 29 points and was named tournament MVP, Henderson had 27 and Duke (28-6) turned in one of its most complete performances of the season to keep their Tobacco Road heirloom from heading down to the Sunshine State. It couldn’t have come at a better time, with NCAA bids going out a couple of hours later.
How complete? Duke had more steals (five) than turnovers (four), outrebounded the taller, bulkier Seminoles 35-34 and buried Florida State with a 12-of-25 showing from beyond the arc.
The Blue Devils claimed the second seed in the East Regional and will face Binghamton on Thursday in Greensboro, N.C., not far from their Durham campus.
The genesis of this championship can be traced to the final game last season. After losing in the ACC tournament and survived a first-round scare from Belmont, the Blue Devils were eliminated in the second round of the NCAAs by West Virginia.
“We wanted to remember that moment. We wanted to remember how it felt,” Scheyer said. “That was something we never wanted to experience again. We wanted to do whatever we could to never let it happen again.”
The Blue Devils watched hated North Carolina celebrate at the last two ACC tournaments. Now they’re back in a more familiar position.
Break out the scissors! It’s time to cut down the nets.
“We put in a lot of work to build this team to where it is today,” Henderson said. “This is such an accomplishment for us. We’ve waited a long time for it. It feels good.”
Toney Douglas led the No. 22 Seminoles (25-9) with 28 points but that wasn’t nearly enough to give the school its first ACC championship. Florida State had to be content with knocking off top-ranked North Carolina in the semifinals and earning its first NCAA bid since 1998.
The Seminoles also were placed in the East as the No. 5 seed. They will face Wisconsin on Friday in Boise, Idaho.
Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, following up his gold-medal triumph as coach of the U.S. Olympic team, captured the 11th conference championship of his career. Now he’ll turn his attention to the quest for a fourth national title.
“I’m really, really happy for these guys, especially the guys in the junior class,” Krzyzewski said. “They had to go a couple of years without any upperclassmen. I’m really pleased they were able to win their championship. Hopefully it’s just their first championship.”
The Blue Devils put this one away early. After Douglas hit a 3-pointer to give Florida State its final lead, 11-9, Duke ripped off 14 points in a row— all but two of them coming from long range.
Henderson worked off a pick and sank a 3-pointer, then Kyle Singler hit three straight treys to complete the run. He swished one out of the corner and came behind a screen for a wide-open look from the top of the key that gave the Blue Devils a 23-11 lead.
Duke was up 35-21 at halftime, taking advantage of miserable shooting (5 of 23) by a Florida State team that had won two down-to-the wire games to get to the championship, but suddenly looked out of place.
Coming off a 73-70 upset of North Carolina, the Seminoles turned it over 13 times and only a late shooting blitz kept it from being a total blowout. Douglas was basically a one-man show, though Chris Singleton did chip in with 15 points.
“We’ll look at what we did wrong, learn from it and grow,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “Duke is more mature team overall. But I think we’ll be fine.”
“Yeah,” Douglas added with a smile, “we’ll be fine.”
The Blue Devils didn’t forget how to celebrate during North Carolina’s two-year reign as ACC king. As soon as the horn sounded, they donned caps and T-shirt commemorating their championship, then Krzyzewski wandered over to the stands to invite two of his grandchildren down to the court, each wearing the No. 3 jersey of senior point guard Greg Paulus, a three-year starter who lost his job this season.
One by one, the players climbed a ladder to cut down the net at the Georgia Dome. Krzyzewski delivered the final slice and blew a kiss to the crowd, which responded with chants of “Let’s go Duke!”
Florida State made a brief spurt in the second half, closing the gap to 42-36 when Ryan Reid laid it in with just over 12 minutes remaining, prompting Duke to call a timeout.
But the Blue Devils, who shot more 3-pointers than any team in the ACC, turned to a familiar weapon to finish off the Seminoles. Scheyer hit a momentum-breaking 3, then got knocked to the court by Derwin Kitchen while putting up another shot beyond the arc. He sank all three free throws, stretching the lead back to 48-38.
From there, Duke pulled away. Singler came up with a steal, and Nolan Smith made a floater in the lane. After Duke snatched an offensive rebound, Henderson buried a 3 from the corner. Smith threaded a brilliant pass to Henderson for a dunk, Scheyer flipped in a no-look shot after turning his back to the basket on a drive, then Singler and Scheyer made back-to-back treys to give the Blue Devils their biggest lead, 65-43, with 6 1/2 minutes to go.
Singler finished with 14 points.
“Every once in a while you run into a team that is shooting that well from the perimeter,” Hamilton said. “There were several times I thought we did a very good job of contesting them, but great players make great plays and I thought Henderson and Kyle really did a great job of shooting in the first half.”
From 3-point range, Scheyer made 4 of 6, Henderson 4 of 7 and Singler 4 of 10. Florida State expected to have an edge on the inside, but Solomon Alabi managed only 10 points and five rebounds, Reid was held to 4 points and Uche Echefu played just 14 minutes and was scoreless.
“Our intention was to go inside,” Hamilton said. “We did a very poor job of doing that.”
As an added bonus to winning an ACC title after North Carolina was sent packing, Duke pulled even with the Tar Heels for the most wins in ACC tournament history. Both schools have 84.
The Blue Devils have been a much-improved team since moving Scheyer to the point shortly after a 101-87 home loss to the Tar Heels on Feb. 11. They have won eight of 10 heading into the NCAA tournament.
“I think he’s probably the reason they are where they are,” Hamilton said. “That was a great move, moving him to point guard. He has a calming effect on their team that allows them to play at the pace they like.”