By JOE MACENKAAP Sports Writer
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) – Two less-than-impressive performances weren’t enough to prevent top-ranked Duke from making it to the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title game.
Struggling for the second time in as many games, the Blue Devils needed a tip-in by freshman William Avery with less than a second left to escape with a 66-64 victory over Clemson in Saturday’s semifinals.
Duke (29-2) shot just 37 percent but advanced to Sunday’s title game against No. 4 North Carolina, an 83-73 winner over Maryland. The Tar Heels and Blue Devils split their regular-season series, with each team winning on its home floor.
Fifth-seeded Clemson (18-13) was trying to earn just its second berth in the conference title game and first since 1962. Instead, the Tigers, who have never won an ACC crown, fell to 0-14 in the tournament against No. 1 seeds.
Elton Brand’s tip-in with 15 seconds left put the Blue Devils up 64-61. Clemson raced down the court and Terrell McIntyre put up a 3-pointer that hit the front of the rim, bounced up near the top of the backboard and fell through the basket with 7.8 seconds remaining.
Duke came back and Avery put up a runner in the lane that bounced off the rim and caromed off to the right. But the reserve point guard tipped the ball back up off the backboard. It came down on the rim and rolled three-fourths of the way around before dropping through, stopping the clock with three-tenths of a second remaining.
The Blue Devils’ Shane Battier slapped away Tom Wideman’s inbounds pass as time expired, setting up Duke for a shot at its 10th conference title but first since 1992.
Roshown McLeod had 17 points and Trajan Langdon added 15 for the Blue Devils in a game that featured 11 lead changes and seven ties. Avery finished with nine points.
Clemson got a career-high 19 points from senior Iker Iturbe and 11 from McIntyre, who hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final 48 seconds to help the Tigers rally from a seven-point deficit.
Duke made it to the semifinals despite shooting just 38 percent in a victory over ACC cellar-dweller Virginia. The Blue Devils had more problems against Clemson, which harassed Duke into 38-percent shooting and nine turnovers in the first half.
The Blue Devils wound up with 13 turnovers that Clemson converted into 16 points. Most of Duke’s problems were in the first half, when the Tigers built a 12-point lead by scoring 10 points off nine turnovers.
Clemson wound up with a 37-15 edge in bench scoring, marking just the fourth time this season that Duke’s bench has been outscored. Three of those games were against the Tigers.
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