Smith leads No. 5 Duke into ACC final against UNC

March 12, 2011 4:09:52 PM PST
Nolan Smith scored 27 points and No. 5 Duke claimed a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game by beating Virginia Tech 77-63 in the semifinals Saturday. 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 arm's 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.

Malcolm Delaney, who's 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 couldn't get closer than 10 in the final 14 minutes.

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 Duke's 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 Duke's victory the night before against Maryland.

After X-rays showed no broken bones, Smith tested his toe during warmups and took his familiar place in the starting lineup. 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.

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 Duke's 64-60 loss in Blacksburg, Va.

They teamed to help Duke -- which hasn't lost in the league's postseason event since the 2008 semifinals -- move one step closer to its 10th league 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.

Victor Davila had 11 points for Virginia Tech, which has endured a topsy-turvy past two weeks since knocking the Blue Devils from No. 1 with that memorable upset.

Back-to-back losses to bubble teams to close the regular season added to the Hokies' desperation entering the league tournament, but they picked up two wins to reach the semifinals for the third time and seemingly played their way to their first NCAA berth since 2007. Playing roughly 16 hours after an emotionally draining quarterfinal win over Florida State, they were denied their first trip to the ACC title game.

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