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Virginia basketball wins ACC Tournament

Brogdon scores 23 as top-seeded Cavaliers top Duke 72-63 in final

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Tony Bennett had been asked so frequently by the media about Wally Walker that it had become a running joke. The Virginia coach was well aware that it had been nearly 40 years — 38, to be exact — since Walker’s Cavaliers had won the ACC Tournament, and his team had the first opportunity to match the 1976 team’s feat since their last ACC tournament appearance in 1994.

With all that pressure, it would be understandable for top-seeded Virginia (28-6, 16-2 ACC) to slip up in their ACC final against third-seeded Duke (26-8, 13-5 ACC). But instead of shrinking from the pressure, Bennett’s team performed as well as it has all season, beating the Blue Devils, 72-63, behind 23 points from sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon.

As time wound down and the confetti fell at the Greensboro Coliseum, Bennett no longer had to joke about the comparisons to 1976 — history had repeated itself.

“That moment when you’re on the floor, you see your wife, you see your parents, you see the joy in these guys’ eyes and hearts — that’s as gratifying as anything,” Bennett said. “I soak that up without a doubt. I gave thanks certainly for all that’s happened, as I said, through the tough times, through the good times.”

Bennett could not have asked for a better start from his team, as the Cavaliers answered an opening bucket from Duke sophomore forward Amile Jefferson with a 9-0 run, electrifying Virginia fans in attendance. Virginia pushed the lead to 16-7 midway through the first half before the Blue Devils responded, going on a 9-1 run to cut the lead to 17-16.

Senior forward Akil Mitchell — who was named to the ACC All-Defensive team and finished second in ACC Defensive Player of the Year voting — led a stifling Virginia defense, which held Duke freshman star Jabari Parker to 1-for-9 shooting from the field early in the game. Parker would finish the half 2-for-10 from the floor for 8 points, but rarely saw good looks while Mitchell guarded him.

“With a guy like that, so aggressive and so skilled, you have to be more on your toes,” Mitchell said. “You’ve got to be a little bit more ready for the jump shot and the drive. So I just tried to be in two different places at one time. … I felt like my teammates had my back and I just gave it my all.”

Brogdon led the way for the Cavaliers, scoring nine points on 3-for-7 shooting. A barrage of 3-pointers late from both teams broke what had been a low-scoring game, but Virginia held on to enter the break up 28-25.

The second half was back and forth, as neither team was able to pull further than six points away from the other. Parker snapped out of his scoring woes in the second half, breaking out for 15 points — including a run of seven straight points midway through the period.

Mitchell was on the bench during Parker’s run, but after Duke went up 47-46, Bennett subbed him back in to try and respond.

“My teammates, they knew that I was capable of the job and they kept telling me to just do my best and then lock him up and the kind of stuff my team is supposed to do,” Mitchell said. “I just went out there and gave my best. You know, he missed a couple of contested shots and from there, I think I was able to frustrate him.”

Brogdon proved dangerous all afternoon, scoring 14 points of his own in the second half to match Parker’s total of 23 points. His teammates say his success in the team’s most important game was a culmination of a season’s work.

“[Brogdon is] relentless, relentless,” sophomore guard Justin Anderson said. “The work that he’s put in, it’s totally fitting that he was able to do what he did this tournament, and do what he did this whole season leading us. … It’s totally fitting and I’m just so happy for him.

Virginia clung to a 59-57 lead with three minutes to play, but two quick scores gave the Cavaliers a 64-57 lead at the 2:00 mark and the Cavaliers were able to hold off the Blue Devils’ comeback attempt. Brogdon put the Cavaliers up 66-60 with 1:05 on the clock, and sunk six free throws down the stretch to clinch the win and the ACC title.

Senior guard Joe Harris finished with 15 points, and was named the tournament MVP. He was joined on the All-Tournament first team by Brogdon, while Mitchell and sophomore forward Anthony Gill were honored on the All-Tournament second team. The understated Harris played down the achievement.

“I didn’t expect it or anything like that at all,” Harris said. “I was more concerned about trying to get the tournament championship. That was my main concern. All the individual stuff … I don’t put much thought into it.”

The crowd thundered as the final seconds ticked off the clock and Virginia sealed the title. Cavalier fans came out in force for the game, and the players said they could feel the effect the crowd had on them.

“That was unbelievable, to have the support that we had,” Harris said. “We were kind of joking around when we came in, [saying] ‘Where are the Duke fans?’ All we could see was orange when we drove over here. It’s special to share it with the fans. They deserve it. The city of Charlottesville deserves an ACC tournament title. They’ve been extremely loyal and very supportive ever since I’ve gotten to the school here.”

Bennett said having the ACC trophy was special, but he was happier seeing his team play the way they did. For a team with its eyes on greater success, the win was another step forward.

“I told these guys in the locker room just now, to me, the true joy is in how they played when the ball was tipped between the lines, how hard they played,” Bennett said. “How they defended, how they moved the ball and tried to outlast through the game. And that’s it. We’ll celebrate all this stuff later on, but that’s what I liked, and you want to play good ball now heading into the NCAA Tournament. So it’s great. For these guys, who have been through a lot, it’s a nice feeling for sure.”

Following their ACC Tournament championship Sunday, the Cavaliers earned a No. 1 seed in the East region of the NCAA Tournament. They will take on No. 16 seed and Big South Tournament winner Coastal Carolina (21-12, 11-5 Big South) in Raleigh, N.C. Friday. The winner of that game will face either No. 8 seed Memphis or No. 9 seed George Washington Sunday for a trip to the Sweet Sixteen at Madison Square Garden in New York City.