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March 9, 2012
ATLANTA (AP) - Tyler Thornton scored a career-high 13 points, Austin Rivers hustled for a clinching three-point play and No. 6 Duke survived an ugly performance against cold-shooting Virginia Tech, beating the Hokies 60-56 in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament Friday night.
Seeking their fourth straight tournament title, the Blue Devils (27-5) advanced to the semifinals against either No. 17 Florida State or Miami, who met in the final game of the quarterfinals.
But this was a struggle.
Duke didn't put away the 10th-seeded Hokies (16-17) until the closing seconds, even though Virginia Tech went more than 8 minutes without making a field goal in the second half.
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Rivers scored 17 points and sealed it by outrunning two Hokies for a loose ball near midcourt. Trailing 55-51, Virginia Tech's Erick Green took off for the hoop, looking to turn it into a one-possession game. But his shot ricocheted off the rim - appropriate for the Hokies on this night - and someone slapped the rebound the other way.
Four players, two from each team, took off after the ball. Rivers beat them all to it, drove to the basket, drew a foul and completed the three-point play with 15.1 seconds left.
Thornton was a little-used weapon for the Blue Devils, coming into the game averaging just 3.7 points. But he kept finding himself open, so he kept putting it up.
The 6-foot-1 sophomore, who had not attempted more than six shots in a game all season, put it up a staggering 16 times - all but three of them from beyond the 3-point arc. Three of those went in, and Duke needed every one to hold off Virginia Tech.
It was amazing the Hokies hung around for that long, considering they made only 16 of 53 shots and needed a late flourish just to nudge their average above 30 percent. After Green's jumper with 13:14 remaining, Virginia Tech didn't score again until Robert Brown hit a short fallaway jumper with 4:53 left to make it 50-42.
The Hokies' frustration was epitomized by a stretch near the end of their drought. Brown pulled up for a little 10-foot bank shot that wasn't even close, the ball clanking off the side of the rim as his shoulders slumped. The Hokies hustled for the offensive rebound, setting up Green for a drive to the hoop. The ball spun all the way around the iron - and out.
Green broke into a frustrated smile as he headed back up the court, seeming to sense that nothing was going to go on this night.
Brown and Green led the Hokies with 16 points apiece, but Green made only 3-of-16 shots. He did most of his damage at the foul line, going 9-for-9.
Mason Plumlee added 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Blue Devils.
Fans' Guide to ACC Tournament Notes
• Duke advanced to the semifinals for the 14th time in the past 15 seasons. In 12 of the 14 most recent seasons in which the Blue Devils reached the semis, they made it to the finals. And on 10 of those occasions, they came away with the championship. Or, to put it another way, Duke has won 10 ACC Tournaments in the past 14 years and gotten to the semis all but once in a 15-year span extending to this season. The errant effort came in 2007, when the Devils were eliminated in the first round by NC State.
• Duke has now reached the semifinals 42 times. Combined with UNC’s 45 advances, the two schools have accounted for nearly 37 percent of all teams appearing in the semis in the 59 years of the ACC Tournament (87 of 236).
• Duke, North Carolina, and NC State reached the semifinals together for the first time since 2005.
• Virginia Tech lost to Duke for the third time this season. That makes three games so far in the 2012 ACC Tournament in which teams met for the third time, with the winner of both regular-season contests coming away with another victory. NC State beat Boston College in the first round, defeating the Eagles for the third time this season, and North Carolina topped Maryland, which it had beaten twice during the regular season.
• Virginia Tech’s .302 field goal percentage against Duke was its lowest in 14 ACC Tournament appearances. On the other hand, its .500 accuracy from 3-point range was its best ever in an ACC Tournament.
• Tyler Thornton’s 13 attempts from 3-point range matched Shane Battier for the most tries by a Duke player in an ACC Tournament game. Both made only three of their attempts. Battier’s performance came against Maryland in the 2001 semifinals.
• Erick Green’s 9-9 free throw shooting was second-best without a miss by a Hokie, after the 10-10 by Malcolm Delaney, also against Duke, in last year’s semifinals. Added to his first round performance against Clemson, Green went a combined 17-17 at the line. (For the mathematically challenged, that means he was 8-8 on free throws against the Tigers.)