3:30 PM ET, March 15, 2003
Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, North Carolina
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) -- Somehow No. 12 Duke has turned a ragged end to the regular season into another Atlantic Coast Conference title opportunity.The Blue Devils moved into position for a fifth straight ACC tournament championship, getting 19 points from Daniel Ewing in a 75-63 victory over North Carolina in the semifinals Saturday. The Blue Devils (23-6) shot 61 percent in the first half to go up by 21 at the break, avenging a three-point loss to the Tar Heels six days ago in Chapel Hill. "We really want it,'' Duke captain Chris Duhon said. "We didn't win the regular-season title and we just think we're a better team that we showed for most of the year. "Things are starting to get better for us and we feel better. We're realizing how good we can really be. Tomorrow is another step in us becoming an outstanding team.'' Duke had lost two of three coming into the postseason and was not picked as one of the favorites to walk away with the title this weekend. That's changed now with Wake Forest and Maryland bumped from the field. "I don't think a lot of people expected us to be here, but we're going to keep doing the things we've been doing and hopefully we can get another win,'' Ewing said. Ewing, coming off a career-high 32 points against Virginia in the quarterfinals, got 13 in the first half as the Blue Devils dominated from the start to win their 14th straight ACC tourney game. No program has won more than three straight tournament titles in the league's first 49 years other than Duke, which last lost in the 1998 championship game to North Carolina. Third-seeded Duke will play N.C. State in the championship Sunday in a rematch of last year, won by the Blue Devils 91-61. The fourth-seeded Wolfpack defeated No. 1 seed Wake Forest 87-83 earlier Saturday. "I've told the guys to just get focused because everybody is going to be hungry in the title game,'' said senior Casey Sanders, who has never lost an ACC tourney game in his Duke career. "You can get tired as the tournament goes on so we have to buckle down.'' Sean May returned to the North Carolina lineup for the first time since breaking his foot Dec. 27. But nothing could spark the Tar Heels (17-15). "We didn't come out with the energy that we came out with the other night and they took advantage of that,'' Jawad Williams said. "It's very disappointing. I guess that's part of being a young team, you invest so much and you don't come out with the same energy that you should have to win another big game.'' Duke snapped North Carolina's semifinal winning streak at 13 straight, dating to 1984, giving Mike Krzyzewski a shot at his eighth ACC crown. "It's good to win in your own neighborhood, I like my neighborhood,'' Krzyzewski said of the ACC's strength. "If you have a chance to win a championship in this neighborhood then you're an elite program.'' There were no major problems between the two archrivals on the heels of an altercation last Sunday that drew league reprimands for UNC coach Matt Doherty, Duke assistant Chris Collins and Andre Buckner, a reserve for the Blue Devils. Although Duke assistant Johnny Dawkins refused to shake Doherty's hand before the game, he did after it ended. North Carolina fell behind by double digits less than nine minutes in as Duke turned up its defensive pressure and was able to hit outside shots. "They are a great shooting team,'' Doherty said. "When they shoot the ball like they did in the first half they are tough to beat.'' The Blue Devils also got an early lift from Sanders, who was a prep star in Florida but has never fulfilled his potential at Duke. The senior had seven points, four rebounds and two blocked shots in the first half while drawing two charges. The Tar Heels trailed 36-26 before Ewing hit a 3-pointer and a driving shot in the lane in a span of 32 seconds. He added another beyond the arc 2:20 later as Duke made 8-of-11 long-range shots in the period to go up 54-33 at the break. North Carolina never threatened in the second half in losing its fourth straight tournament matchup with Duke. Ewing has gone a combined 18-for-28 in the tourney, including 8-of-12 from 3-point range. "I wouldn't say he's the final piece, but he's one of the main pieces that we were looking for,'' Duhon said of his fellow guard. "And it was just a simple thing for him to be assertive and not take a back seat to anybody. He's been doing it and I know he's going to be there tomorrow.'' May didn't waste much time getting back into the offensive flow. He entered the game 5½ minutes in to a standing ovation from the North Carolina section. Less than a minute later, the 6-foot-8 center had a pair of layups in a span of 41 seconds. However, May wasn't the answer for a North Carolina team that was 7-3 with him and 10-11 without the freshman before Saturday. Williams, who had 25 points in Friday's 84-72 upset win over No. 14 Maryland in the quarterfinals, didn't start for the Tar Heels after breaking a team rule, but just missed the opening 2:05 and finished with 13 points. Raymond Felton led the Tar Heels with 18 points.
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