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March 14, 2010
By Bill Hass
For three days, the Greensboro Coliseum had been no place for high seeds. The fifth and sixth fell on Thursday, and numbers two, three and four went down Friday. Top-seeded Duke managed to navigate the minefield to reach the championship game, but the Blue Devils were in grave peril when Georgia Tech trimmed a 10-point lead to one in the waning moments.
That’s when Scheyer, coming off a Brian Zoubek screen, took a pass from Nolan Smith and launched a 3-pointer that stripped cleanly through the net with 18 seconds left. The shot put Duke up by 63-59.
Georgia Tech countered with a two-point basket and Kyle Singler’s pair of free throws with nine seconds to go officially sealed things, 65-61. But there was no doubt Scheyer’s shot was the biggest of the tournament.
And the fact that he had hit just three of his first 12 attempts Sunday, including 1-for-8 behind the arc, didn’t bother any Blue Devil in the least.
“When I passed him that ball, I knew he was going to shoot and I knew it was going in,” Smith said. “He’s that type of guy. He was missing early in the game, but when it comes down to it and we need a big shot he’s ready to step up and hit it. He’s my guy and he always comes through for me.”
Lance Thomas had positioned himself underneath, but he said when Scheyer let it go, “I didn’t even go for the rebound.”
So exactly what is it that flows through Scheyer’s veins?
“He’s cold-blooded,” Thomas said. “Jon is cold-blooded. He doesn’t let certain things faze him. So what if he isn’t shooting the ball good early in the game. He saw that we needed a big shot, he delivered.”
Zoubek has set a lot of screens that have created enough space for Scheyer to deliver.
“What can I say about that shot? It’s the biggest shot I’ve seen in a long time,” Zoubek said. “I was pumped up about that. He had missed a few, and to have the confidence to take that with guys in his face – that’s Jon for you, you know?”
There was a lot more to it than Scheyer hitting the shot, of course. The possession began with 47 seconds left, so the Yellow Jackets knew they would get one more possession and chose not to press.
As Smith dribbled the ball near midcourt, Scheyer and Singler took positions on the baseline with Zoubek and Thomas ready to screen. The signal came to run the play and Smith said the one that came open first would get the ball.
“I was on the left side and Kyle and I crossed underneath,” Scheyer said. “The two defenders on us miscommunicated a little bit and I was able to get a step on the guy and then Brian set a great screen.
“I saw (Tech’s Derrick) Favors come out but he didn’t come out all the way. I just had a good look at it and let it go. I felt like I was due for one, the way I had been shooting the whole game. It felt good when it left my hand and I felt confident.”
Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt did not fault his defense on the play. He said he wanted Scheyer to come off to the right side and not the left, which is exactly what happened.
“That was a big-time shot you just saw,” Hewitt said. “We did everything we wanted to do. There’s nothing else we could have done except pray for a miss.”
Scheyer said he doesn’t have a preference which side he shoots from.
“I don’t know if I’m not as effective on the right side or maybe statistically that’s the case,” he said, “but for me I felt comfortable coming off that way and felt confident shooting that shot.”
For Duke, the result confirmed some attributes the players believe about this team – togetherness and toughness. Scheyer harkened back to last season’s NCAA loss to Villanova.
“Villanova played better than us but they were more together than us,” he said. “This whole year I’ve said we have a real together group and I think we showed it today when they cut it to one.
“Previous teams I’ve been on, I don’t know if I would have been tough enough to pull it out. But I thought our team showed a lot of toughness, making some big stops and hitting a couple of shots.”
That toughness was exhibited near the end of the first half when Singler, in the process of saving a loose ball, dove over the table when the ESPN crew was sitting. He missed Dick Vitale, a camera man and two other people but wiped out a couple of monitors and landed on play-by-play man Dan Shulman, who went sprawling and had his headphones knocked off. He was able to resume broadcasting with no visible ill effects.
“It felt good, I guess,” said Singler, who sported a six-inch welt across his right shoulder blade the rest of the game. “I had a soft landing. I know I broke some things, but I guess I’m sorry. As long as I didn’t break anything, bone-wise, and I didn’t hurt anyone, I guess that’s all that matters. I’m not afraid of much; I just play hard.”
Scheyer said Singler forgot the game was basketball and not football, which he played in high school in Oregon. v “I’ve seen Kyle do that so many times now I’m used to it,” Scheyer said. “He’s going to put his body on the line for the team and he’s done that ever since he’s been here. It shows the toughness we have as a team and him personally.”
Other teammates admired the effort but questioned whether they would have done the same thing.
“I don’t know if I would have given up my body like that,” Zoubek said. “With my 7-foot frame, I don’t know if I would have been able to make that play, I’ll tell you that. Giving up his body completely for the team says everything about him. He has a win-or-die mentality.”
That’s exactly the kind of mentality Duke needs to carry over as it turns its focus to the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils were awarded the No. 1 seed in the South (and the third overall seed). They will begin play Friday in Jacksonville against the winner of Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Winthrop.
Now is not the time to let up, Thomas said.
“We’ve got to stay hungry,” he said. “Something like this could make a team complacent and satisfied. That’s going to be big for us the next couple of days. Enjoy this now. Tomorrow, this is behind us. We earned this, but this isn’t the last game of the season.”
The Blue Devils were excited to cut down the nets in Greensboro and want to repeat the ritual.
“Every team wants this feeling,” Smith said. “It’s the best feeling in the world. There’s only one more feeling like this and that’s the NCAA championship. Win that and you’ll get this feeling again.”
Duke has not made an appearance in the Final Four in Scheyer’s career.
“I do feel like this is our year,’ Scheyer said. “It can’t just be a year when you think it’s going to happen, you need to go and take it. This team has potential to beat anybody.”
Especially if he has a few more cold-blooded shots left in him.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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