ACC Semifinals: Duke 77, Virginia Tech 63
By Joedy McCreary
GREENSBORO ó Nolan Smith refused to let a toe injury stop him. Virginia Tech couldnít do it, either.
Smith scored 27 points a day after jamming his toe, and No. 5 Duke claimed a spot in the ACC championship game by beating the Hokies 77-63 in the semifinals Saturday.
ěAt this stage,î Smith said, ěno injury is going to hold me back from playing.î
Kyle Singler added 13 points and 11 rebounds and Seth Curry had 10 points for the second-seeded Blue Devils (29-4).
The two-time defending league tournament champions and reigning national champs shot 47 percent and kept the Hokies at armís length throughout the second half to avenge a late-season loss and set up a third meeting with bitter rival North Carolina in the title game Sunday.
ěWe were matched up for the regular-season championship, and itís the two best teams again,î Smith said.
Malcolm Delaney, whoís second to Smith in the ACC scoring race, finished with 19 points on 4-of-14 shooting for the sixth-seeded Hokies (21-11). They were just 2 of 12 from 3-point range and couldnít get closer than 10 in the final 14 minutes.
ěGoing into the game, I felt we had earned confidence,î Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. ěWe had beaten this team. But we needed to play well, not just play hard. I thought we played really hard. Unfortunately, we didnít play as well tonight.î
Erick Green added 17 points, including a layup over Curry that pulled Virginia Tech to 41-35 with just under 18 minutes left. Singler followed with a jumper to start the 11-2 run that pushed Dukeís lead into double figures to stay.
Without question, the main story line focused on Smith, the ACC player of the year. His status was in question until a few minutes before tipoff because he injured the second toe on his left foot late in Dukeís victory the night before against Maryland. X-rays showed no broken bones, and coach Mike Krzyzewski said Smith was walking ěfairly wellî at a short team meeting at about midnight.
ěOnce we knew that it was more of a jammed toe, we felt that he would be OK,î Krzyzewski said.
When he woke up Saturday, Smith said ěit felt brand new.î After testing the toe during warmups, he took his familiar place in the starting lineup and almost immediately went to work.
He scored 16 points in the first half and finished 8 of 16 from the field in the highest-scoring ACC tournament game of his career. The senior captain keyed an early run that gave the Blue Devils some breathing room, then essentially put the game away with consecutive alley-oops to Mason Plumlee in the final 8 minutes while once again resembling what Curry called ěthe Nolan that we all know.î
Singler matched a school record by playing in his 144th consecutive game while Curry, the son of former Virginia Tech sharpshooter Dell Curry, atoned for a five-foul, no-point night in Dukeís 64-60 loss in Blacksburg, Va.
ěAny time you play bad against a certain team, you want to go out and make up for it,î Curry said.
They teamed to help Duke ó which hasnít lost in the leagueís postseason event since the 2008 semifinals ó move one step closer to its 10th conference tournament title in 13 years and ACC-record 19th overall. Standing in the way are the sixth-ranked Tar Heels, who beat them 81-67 a week ago in Chapel Hill to claim the top seed in this tournament.