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March 12, 2006

Duke holds off B.C. to win ACC

Box score

GREENSBORO, N.C. - Duke found the perfect remedy for that two-game losing streak at the end of the regular season - a short trip to the Greensboro Coliseum for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, an almost unbeatable combination.

Three hard-fought victories later, the third-ranked Blue Devils added another title and likely wrapped up a No. 1 seed in the tournament that matters the most.

J.J. Redick had consecutive 3-pointers down the stretch to give Duke the lead for good, Shelden Williams and Greg Paulus added clutch free throws in the final seconds and the Blue Devils held off No. 11 Boston College 78-76 Sunday in the championship game.

Louis Hinnant's heave from about 50 feet right before the buzzer bounced off the backboard, denying the Eagles the title in their inaugural ACC tournament.

Of course, this is familiar territory for the Blue Devils (30-3), who won the tournament for a record 16th time. Seven have come in the past eight years, an amazing run of superiority for Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski and his program.

Since 1998, the Blue Devils are 25-2 in this event. They are 30-15 in the ACC tournament in this arena.

This one was far from easy, and not simply because Duke lost the final two games of the regular season. BC knocked off North Carolina in the semifinals and rallied from a 10-point deficit in the second half against the Blue Devils.

The Eagles (26-7) led 71-68 before Redick, the tournament MVP, took over. The second-leading scorer in Division I made one 3 to tie it before Craig Smith converted two free throws on the other end. Redick then used a pick from Williams to get free and launched another jumper from a few steps behind the 3-point line.

As it swished through, he was knocked to the floor by Smith, but it didn't matter. The Blue Devils were back in front.

Williams' two free throws later increased the margin to four, and Hinnant brought BC within one again with a leaning 3-pointer. Paulus converted one at the line to make it a two-point game, leaving only Hinnant's heave between Duke and another championship.

It didn't go in, and the Blue Devils rushed the court to celebrate. Smith and Hinnant, meanwhile, fell to the floor and remained on their backs for several seconds.

Redick scored 26 points while Williams added 18 for Duke. Hinnant led the Eagles with 20 points and Smith finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

For the first time in three tournament games, the Blue Devils led at halftime, thanks mostly to Redick's 10 points. Yet when BC went ahead early in the second half, Krzyzewski pulled his star scorer along with DeMarcus Nelson. Once Redick got to the bench, he got an earful from assistant Chris Collins.

"I just told him it was his last ACC game, and I didn't feel he had the fire that makes him the best player in the country," Collins said. "I think he got a little angry at me, probably, but maybe it was a good thing."

It was a common exchange between a coach and a player, one that was quickly overshadowed by an incident on the court. Paulus dived to the floor to force a turnover, and as he jumped up to celebrate, he accidentally hit Hinnant, who returned the shove.

This brought both the teams together in a scrum with pushing and shoving but no punches, even though Duke's Lee Melchionni and BC's Jared Dudley came the closest before they were separated. Fouls were called on Paulus and Hinnant, and during the dead ball, Redick checked back in.

He needed only a few minutes to show Collins he got the message.

With the Blue Devils in front 48-47, Redick ended three straight possessions with 3s to give them a 10-point lead, forcing a timeout by Eagles coach Al Skinner. Redick ran to the bench and excitedly exchanged chest bumps with Collins, the perfect bookend to their emotional conference earlier.

"You live and die with your guys, and we've worked a lot together," Collins said. "To see him respond and then hit those shots and lead us to another championship was very special to watch."

BC scored the next nine points to get back in it, the final three coming on a long jumper from Hinnant to set up the frantic finish.

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