Miles Plumlee shut it with his outreached arm. As the Blue Devils nursed a four-point advantage with less than one minute to play, the senior forward batted a loose ball out of the lane and Austin Rivers chased it down for a lay-up to help Duke secure a 60-56 victory in Friday’s quarterfinal round of the 2012 ACC Tournament at Philips Arena.ATLANTA, Ga. -- With Virginia Tech knocking on the door,
“Miles made one of the best plays of the game,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said following the triumph.
After winning the race to the ball – which prompted Krzyzewski to joke afterwards that it was the first sprint he’d seen the rookie win all season – Rivers scored and was fouled with 15 seconds left in the contest. His ensuing free throw pushed Duke’s lead to an insurmountable seven points.
Rivers finished with a game-high 17 points for the Blue Devils (27-5) while Tyler Thornton added a career-best 13. Mason Plumlee carded his team-leading 11th double-double of the year with a 12-point, 10-rebound performance.
Duke’s win came just three days after a foot injury sent co-captain Ryan Kelly to the sideline.
“You never want anyone to ever get hurt, but the fact that it happened early in the week gave us a couple of days to prepare for different lineups we could play,” said Blue Devil associate head coach Chris Collins. “We went to the smaller lineup for a little bit to spread the floor and put our shooters in there with one of the Plumlees.”
While the Blue Devils didn’t shoot especially well from long range, sinking just five-of-26 three-point attempts, Duke took the first step of playing without Kelly.
“It’s something we’re going to have to do,” Collins noted. “We want Ryan to get back, but Coach K is a believer that you have to figure out how to find a way to win.”
Duke built a five-point cushion at intermission thanks to 11 first half points from Rivers, and the first double figure lead for the Blue Devils came at the 8:30 mark of the second half when Seth Curry scored to make the score 48-38.
Virginia Tech’s Robert Brown, who finished the night with 16 points, pulled the Hokies (16-17) to within four points at 55-51 with 1:08 remaining, and Virginia Tech took possession of the ball when Dorenzo Hudson rebounded a Thornton miss with 34 seconds left. After a timeout, Erick Green misfired on a jumper that would have trimmed the margin to two, and Miles Plumlee out-jumped the crowd to push the ball to midcourt where Rivers scooped it up en route to the other end.
With the win, Duke advances to the semifinals for the 14th time in the past 15 seasons and will meet the winner of Florida State-Miami on Saturday at 3 p.m.
Duke allowed just 56 points, surrendering less than 60 for the third time since mid-January. The Hokies made just 16-of-53 (.302) field goal attempts, marking a season-low percentage for Duke’s opponents.
“Defensively, I thought we were really good,” Collins said. “We held them to 30 percent shooting for the game; Erick Green was 3-for-16 which was a huge point of emphasis coming into the game.”
“I’m really proud of our team because we didn’t shoot the ball well, but we didn’t let that dictate our defense,” Rivers added.
OFF THE BENCH
With Kelly out due to injury and Miles Plumlee on the bench due to foul trouble, Duke received an inspired effort from sophomore Josh Hairston.
“Sometimes that’s the way opportunities present themselves,” Hairston said. “All I want to do is help my teammates.”
While playing a season-high 17 minutes, Hairston contributed four points, three rebounds and one assist.
“Josh really came through for us, especially on the defensive end,” noted Krzyzewski.
Sophomore guard Tyler Thornton turned in the two most impressive hustle plays of the night.
“We knew it was going to be a possession-by-possession game,” he said. “We knew we were going to have to fight on every possession.”
With five and a half minutes to play in the opening stanza, Rivers missed a contested lay-up in transition only to have Thornton beat the other seven players down the floor, gather the loose ball and score to increase Duke’s lead back to five points.
Midway through the second half with the Blue Devils holding an eight-point advantage, the Hokies’ Brown stole the ball from Rivers but, once just inside the three-point arc, had the ball taken away by Thornton. Duke took its first lead in double figures on the next possession.