Devils rout Heels, capture another ACC crown
Updated: Sunday March 11, 2001 7:22 PM
ATLANTA (AP) -- Shane Battier climbed the ladder and sliced a couple of strands away from the rim, leaving just enough dangling nylon for Mike Krzyzewski to finish the job.
Clearly, Duke has mastered the net-cutting ceremony at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
The third-ranked Blue Devils routed No. 6 North Carolina 79-53 Sunday in the finals, leaving little doubt about which school rules one of college basketball's great rivalries.
Duke (29-4) headed on to the NCAA tournament, likely as the top seed in the East Regional, after becoming the first school in more than three decades to win the ACC three straight years.
"It feels kind of normal," said sophomore guard Jason Williams, who didn't play the final 13 minutes because of a sprained left ankle. "We have so much passion. We want it so bad."
For the second time in a week, Duke earned a double-digit victory over North Carolina (25-6). But this one was much more convincing than the 95-81 victory at Chapel Hill on the final Sunday of the regular season.
The Blue Devils took control with a 19-1 run in the first half and led 50-30 at halftime. North Carolina never got any closer and looked totally lifeless at the end, run completely ragged by Duke's ironmen.
"They got exhausted. We could see it in their eyes," freshman guard Chris Duhon said. "We kept pushing and pushing and they finally reached the breaking point. We saw them getting tired and instead of letting them back in the game, we went for the jugular."
Mike Dunleavy scored 24 points and Battier, the tournament MVP, added 20 for the Blue Devils, who won three games in three days without center Carlos Boozer, sidelined with a broken bone in his right foot.
"To come here when people doubted us, doubting whether we had the legs to do it three days in a row, to win MVP, it's really storybook," said Battier, the winningest player in ACC history.
Krzyzewski, meanwhile, won his 600th career game.
"Our team was amazing," he said. "I know they were tired, but they played with great heart and beat an outstanding team."
Despite the loss, the Tar Heels were hoping for a top seed when the pairings were announced later Sunday, perhaps in the South Regional with a chance for a return trip to the Georgia Dome in a couple of weeks.
North Carolina was held to its fewest points since a 45-44 win over N.C. State on Feb. 12, 1997 -- a span of 151 games. The Tar Heels shot 29 percent (19-of-65) and had only one player, Joseph Forte with 14 points, in double figures.
"This is harder than a two-point loss," Forte said. "We basically got blown out of the building."
Duke hit only 38 percent of its shots but seemed to arrive first at every loose ball. The most telling stat: the shorter Blue Devils outrebounded North Carolina 54-47, including getting 20 at the offensive end.
Duke posted the second-largest victory in ACC final history, topped only by North Carolina's 37-point win over N.C. State in 1968. Krzyzewski even got a chance to take out all of his starters so they could receive an ovation from the crowd of 40,000.
Duke was leading 23-20 just past the midway point of the first half when Battier ignited the decisive run with a 3-pointer. Nate James followed with another 3-pointer and Williams stole a pass from Ronald Curry, going in for a dunk.
Kris Lang made a free throw, but that was only a temporary respite for North Carolina. Williams, who struggled with his outside shooting, scored on a great move to the basket. Battier hit another 3. Williams finished the spurt with another layup, giving Duke a 42-21 lead with 4 1/2 minutes left in the half.
North Carolina, the top seed in the tournament, never got any closer than the 20-point halftime deficit. Forte followed up a 27-point effort against Georgia Tech in the semifinals by going 4-of-15.
Duke, which shared the regular-season title with North Carolina but was the No. 2 seed, joined North Carolina (1967-69) and N.C. State (1954-56) as the only teams to win three straight tournaments.
The Tar Heels are the winningest team in tournament history, reaching the final for the 27th time in the 48-year history of the event. But they were denied a 16th championship by their biggest rival. The schools are only eight miles apart.
The teams split their season series, each winning on the other's court. North Carolina won 85-83 at Durham on Feb. 1.
But the Blue Devils have captured four straight since losing Boozer, who hopes to return for the NCAA tournament. No need to rush it -- his teammates have been getting by just fine without him.
Duke would be in more trouble without Williams, but he said there's no doubt he'll be able to play in the next tournament.
Trainer Dave Engelhardt described the injury as a "mild sprain," though Williams was pounding the floor after he went down.
"There's a lot of pain, no matter how minor they say it is," said Williams, who watched the rest of the game from the bench, his foot resting on a chair covered by a bag of ice.
The Tar Heels were beat up, too.
Lang, who injured a muscle in his right leg in the semifinals, managed only seven points and one rebound. Curry, playing with a heavily taped left wrist, had six points and three assists.