GREENSBORO, N.C. - Joe Harris scored 15 points and Akil Mitchell grabbed a season-high 15 rebounds as the Virginia Cavaliers topped Duke 72-63 Sunday afternoon to win their first ACC title in 38 years. Harris, the tournament's Most Valuable Player, scored 47 points over three days and was a steadying presence for the Wahoos, who withstood a sublime 23-point outburst from Jabari Parker to win the championship.
"They were just talking about how it was the first time where a team not from North Carolina has won the ACC Tournament championship three years in a row," Harris said. "I think it shows how tough this league is top to bottom. We might not get as much credit because so much attention is given to the teams like Carolina and Duke. Obviously, they're unbelievable programs and they deserve everything they've gotten, but there's a lot of other really good teams in this league."
The Cavaliers and Blue Devils staged a championship game for the ages before a rollicking sold-out crowd of 21,533, which at times sounded surprisingly like a home game for the Wahoos. The Coliseum was a boisterous sea of orange and blue, having no shame in shouting down the notoriously vociferous Duke fans. Virginia, the tournament's top seed, now awaits the decision of the NCAA Selection Committee as to whether it will receive a coveted No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
"I think we would, of course, like to be a one seed like anybody," Malcolm Brogdon said. "I don't think our focus is really on that. The fact that we're going in the NCAA regardless, it means a lot to us, and we're going to focus on going there and competing against whoever we play."
Virginia raced out to an early nine-point lead before Duke made a 12-3 run to tie the game at 19 with less than four minutes remaining in the first half. However, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was issued a technical foul after throwing a magic marker on the Blue Devils' bench. Virginia's London Perrantes hit both free throws, giving the Wahoos a six-point lead.
"I didn't do it in reaction to anything," Krzyzewski said. "I can hit my head on the floor. I can do a handstand. I can tumble, as long as it's not a reaction to anybody. There's no way that there should be a technical foul on that. I mean, that was ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. Shameful."
Trailing by three at halftime, the Blue Devils finally took the lead with 9:14 left on a Parker three-pointer. That lead was short-lived, however, as the Wahoos raced the ball upcourt and retook the lead seconds later after Mike Tobey (eight points) put back a Brogdon miss. The Devils took another lead with 8:37 remaining on another Parker bucket, but that was the last time Duke led.
"We kept talking about don't get sped up," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "Make them guard you and make them earn on the other end. That's what they did. But we had to earn this against that kind of team and that kind of program."
Duke is famous for its ability to get to the free throw line, perennially making more than its opponents attempt. That was not the case Sunday, as Virginia went 25-of-38 (65.8 percent) from the line, far more than Duke's 11 attempts. Part of the reason for the foul disparity came from Duke's obvious fatigue. Virginia forces opponents to play defense for 20-25 seconds every possession, and in the third game in three days fatigue can definitely become a factor.
"Our kids fought like crazy," Krzyzewski said. "It's their third game in 40 hours. We had a hard time finishing and getting to the foul line when we didn't."
Virginia's win was sweet vindication for seniors Harris and Mitchell. As part of Bennett's first recruiting class, all three faced a difficult road to this point. Harris recalled a meeting early in his career where his new coach talked about overcoming adversity.
"I remember sitting in his office and there was six of us -- the first recruiting class he had brought in, and he said, ‘This isn't going to be easy. We might have to learn how to lose together before we can win together.' I think Akil and I are reaping the benefits just from believing in him and believing we could turn this thing around."