Duke stamps ticket to NCAA tourney
Blue Devils win ACC tournament for seventh time
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Jasmine Thomas scored 21 points and No. 8 Duke won its second consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship by beating No. 19 North Carolina 81-66 on Sunday.
Freshman Haley Peters added 14 points and Karima Christmas had 13 for the top-seeded Blue Devils (29-3). They shot 46 percent against a stingy North Carolina defense and held the Tar Heels (25-8) scoreless for 6 1/2 minutes down the stretch.
Jessica Breland scored 27 points for North Carolina, and her free throw put the Tar Heels up 54-53 with 9:28 left. The Blue Devils then reeled off 15 consecutive points as part of a 20-2 run to take command and beat their top Tobacco Road rivals for the second time in eight days.
Allison Vernerey finished with 10 points for Duke, the first team to repeat as ACC tournament champion since North Carolina won the event four years in a row beginning in 2005. The Blue Devils, who won the tournament for the seventh time, enter their 17th consecutive NCAA tournament on a six-game winning streak.
Duke reached the championship game for the fourth time in four seasons under Joanne P. McCallie and pulled away down the stretch against a North Carolina team that appeared gassed. The sixth-seeded Tar Heels were trying to become the first ACC team to win four tournament games in four days.
Krystal Thomas put the Blue Devils ahead to stay with a jumper in the lane with 9 minutes left, and Peters and Jasmine Thomas hit spirit-breaking 3-pointers during the run. Peters capped the burst with a free throw to make it 73-56 with 2:35 remaining.
Italee Lucas had 11 points and Chay Shegog finished with 10 for the Tar Heels, who came to Greensboro on a four-game losing streak but certainly got things turned around while they were here.
They looked impressive for much of the week, upsetting third-seeded Florida State and second-seeded Miami - both by double figures -to reach the championship game for the 16th time before being denied their 10th title and first since 2008.
Duke and North Carolina split the regular-season series, with each team winning on its home court - including Duke's 66-58 victory a week earlier in Durham. The first 30 minutes of Round 3 were a tight affair, with 12 ties and nine lead changes before the Blue Devils broke the game open late to improve to 5-3 in ACC championship matchups with the archrival Tar Heels.