GREENSBORO, N.C. — When future NCAA opponents watch the tape from Duke’s 72-63 loss to Virginia in the ACC championship game, there will likely be two takeaways.
The Blue Devils are at their best when Jabari Parker is aggressive.
Duke’s defense was ineffective, allowing the Cavaliers to score on 16 of their last 18 possessions.
There was a time in the second half when it appeared Duke could be headed for victory. Coach Mike Krzyzewski called timeout with Duke holding a one-point lead, implored his team to keep fighting, get stops and, most importantly, grab some rebounds. Then Virginia coach Tony Bennett put in Akil Mitchell, and his toughness around the basket led the Cavaliers to their second ACC championship and first since 1976.
Mitchell put a stop to Parker’s brief run of dominance, a 7-0 stretch that proved he can be the best player in the ACC, if not the country, when he reaches his top level. That run, though, came while Mitchell was on Virginia’s bench. During the six minutes that Mitchell rested, Parker went 4-for-7 from the field. But with Mitchell guarding him, he went 5-for-17.
After the game, Krzyzewski pointed out something else about Parker’s stat line.
“He took 24 shots and only three free throws,” Krzyzewski said, pausing for emphasis, letting people glance at their stat sheets and see that Virginia missed more free throws (13, shooting 25-of-38) than Duke attempted (7-for-11).
That wasn’t Krzyzewski’s only issue with the officials. Late in the first half, Krzyzewski was working on the refs, per usual, and Jamie Luckie later told the broadcast table that he warned Krzyzewski to bring things down. Krzyzewski, with his back turned to Luckie, threw his dry-erase marker, and Luckie gave him a technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct. Krzyzewski couldn’t believe it, arms spread wide as he asked for an explanation of what he had done.
He still couldn’t explain it after the game.
“I have no clue. None,” he said.
When it was pointed out that he threw his marker, he said, “Yeah, but you can throw a clipboard, too. I didn’t do it in reaction to anything. I can hit my head on the floor. I can do a handstand. I can tumble, as long as it’s not a reaction to anybody.
“There’s no way that there should be a technical foul on that. I mean, that was ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. Shameful. Shameful.”
Back to Parker, though. At halftime, he was 2-of-10 from the field for eight points and three rebounds. One of his shots was a step-back 3-pointer with a hand in his face and the shot clock winding down. The basket tied the game at 19 with 3:53 left in the half.
Then in the second, with Mitchell on the bench, he went on his personal 7-0 run with a steal and a block. The steal came in front of the Cavaliers’ bench, as Parker took it the length of the floor, finishing with a one-handed slam. He drilled a 3 on Duke’s next possession and drove to the lane on the one after, giving Duke a 47-46 lead.
Then Krzyzewski called timeout, Mitchell came back, and Parker finished the game 1-for-6 with four rebounds (two on each end), one assist and one turnover. Mitchell picked up four rebounds and scored four points on offensive rebound put-backs in that stretch. Mitchell displayed an ability to finish that no Duke player other than Amile Jefferson came close to matching — the Blue Devils got the looks they wanted, but too often the close-range shots wouldn’t fall.
In a disappointed locker room after the game, Jefferson ran through a list of what Duke must to going forward, based off of what it lacked against the Cavaliers.
“Playing together, being tough, feeding off one another, nobody feeling like they’re alone on defense and rebounding as a unit, gang rebounding,” he said. “We’ve got to be tougher than the opponents we play.
“It’s not coming down to how talented you are in March, it’s about how much fight do you have right now, how much do you want to win, how much do you want to play that one more game, then the next game and the next game.”