By R.L. Bynum
NEW YORK — That feeling of defeat.
That’s how Duke center Mark Williams described the final minutes of the Blue Devils’ 94–81 loss Saturday to North Carolina at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
With Syracuse threatening to give Mike Krzyzewski a loss in his final ACC Tournament on top of the loss the coach suffered in his final home game, that feeling motivated Williams.
“Obviously versus North Carolina, we got that feeling of defeat knowing there’s not a second chance to play in Cameron again,” said Williams, who collected 15 points and 16 rebounds as the Blue Devils (27-5) pulled away with a late 10–0 run to beat the Orange 88–79 in an ACC Tournament quarterfinal on Thursday at Barclays Center.
“So I think, for me personally, that’s what was going through my mind,” Williams said. “We lose that game, we’re done, like we’re not playing in the ACC tournament again. So honestly, that was probably the biggest thing, just surviving and advancing.”
Williams said that the Tar Heels delivered plenty of lessons along with that frustrating defeat Saturday.
“I think it was really important,” Williams said. “We had to learn from that game. But, at the same time, we had to move on. We can’t really harp on that game too much because then you’re playing mind games with yourself or thinking, what if this happens? What if that happens? I think you had to just go out there, play your game, be confident, go out there and win the game, and that’s what we did.”
Duke meets No. 4-seed or Miami in the 7 o’clock semifinal Friday night. The Hurricanes beat No. 12-seed Boston College in overtime 71–69.
As if dealing with the historic loss to Carolina wasn’t enough, Duke has also dealt with food poisoning on the team, which hit A.J. Griffin hard. That led to Griffin and most of the Blue Devils coaching staff throwing up much of Wednesday.
Griffin only took three shots in 22 minutes and finished with four points.
Just as in the loss to Carolina, the defense that has been a calling card for the Duke program for years wasn’t present.
“We’re not playing very good defense right now. We did not against North Carolina, and we did not in this game,” Krzyzewski said. “We’re missing a lot of assignments, and we fouled a lot of 3-point shooters. I mean, we fouled at least three today. You just can’t do that. So we can improve definitely on that end of the court.”
Duke overcame a career-high 28 points and six 3-pointers from Syracuse’s Jimmy Boeheim, who tried mightily to give his brother Buddy another game. The ACC suspended Buddy Boeheim for a punch to the chest of Florida State guard Wyatt Wilkes in Wednesday’s Orange victory.
Syracuse finished the season 16–17 for the first losing season of Coach Jim Boeheim’s career.
Even with the frustrating outcome of the season, coaching his two sons made it special.
“It’s the best season I’ve ever had. I think that says enough,” Coach Boeheim said.
ACC Tournament bracket
ACC Tournament schedule
Tuesday’s first round
No. 12 Boston College 66, No. 13 Pittsburgh 46
No. 10 Clemson 70, No. 15 N.C. State 64
No. 11 Louisville 84, No. 14 Georgia Tech 74
Wednesday’s second round
No. 9 Syracuse 96, No. 8 Florida State 57
No. 12 Boston College 82, No. 5 Wake Forest 77, OT
No. 7 Virginia Tech 76, No. 10 Clemson 75, OT
No. 6 Virginia 51, No. 11 Louisville 50
No. 1 Duke 88, No. 9 Syracuse 79
No. 4 Miami 71, No. 12 Boston College 69, OT
No. 7 Virginia Tech 87, No. 2 Notre Dame 80
No. 3 North Carolina 63, No. 6 Virginia 43
No. 1 Duke 80, No. 4 Miami 76
No. 7 Virginia Tech 72, No. 3 North Carolina 59
Saturday’s championship (ESPN)
No. 1 Duke (28–5) vs. Virginia Tech (21–12), 8:30 p.m.
Photo via @UNC_Basketball