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High-Powered Duke Denies Notre Dame An ACC Title

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Duke freshman forward Jayson Tatum made several clutch plays to lift the Blue Devils over Notre Dame.
Associated Press

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The main talking points from Notre Dame’s 75-69 loss to Duke on Saturday in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

"What a great final. It was a great college game," Irish head coach Mike Brey said. "I'm really proud of our group. You've got to give Duke credit. They made some big shots and big plays.

"When we were up six, we had some really clean looks from three. We needed a couple of those to go down to escape and couldn't do it."

Duke Rallies Past Notre Dame, 75-69

Quick Hits: Notre Dame's 75-69 Loss To Duke ($)

ALL ABOUT COLSON

Junior forward Bonzie Colson was the star of the show Saturday night at Barclays, scoring in every way imaginable on his way to a 29-point effort.

He was 12-of-21 from the field and made two of his three 3-point attempts.

“It's one of the great performances in championship game history,” Brey said. “Now, our fans don't know about the history of the ACC Championship game. We've only been in the league four years. But what he did willing us and keeping us in it and making big plays and chasing down loose balls, it's a great performance. And he's so confident. He's a tough matchup now that he can step up and make jump shots.”

Colson led the Irish with nine rebounds. He briefly left the game with a rolled ankle, but returned with no apparent problem. Brey called it a “twist,” not a sprain, and expects Colson to be 100 percent for the NCAA Tournament.

Saturday was Colson’s third game with 25-plus points this season. Big scoring nights from the All-ACC first-teamer typically mean success for the Irish — they were 10-4 during Colson’s career when he scores 20 or more points.

TATUM TAKES OVER

The No. 3 overall recruit in the class of 2016, Tatum made his presence felt throughout Saturday’s ACC title game.

At 6-foot-8, 205 pounds, Notre Dame did not have a defender quick or strong enough to check the McDonald’s All-American. The Irish aren’t alone in their struggles defending Tatum — the St. Louis native averaged 16.8 points this season and had 20-plus in the first three ACC tourney games.

Notre Dame used its standard man-to-man defense and mixed in a 1-2-2 zone Saturday. Senior guard Steve Vasturia and senior wing V.J. Beachem both tried their hand at guarding Tatum, each finding limited effectiveness.

Tatum went over Vasturia, Notre Dame’s best defender, on several second-half drives. Krzyzewski’s prized freshman was too much each time.

“If he's not the 1 pick. I've got to see the guy who's the 1 pick,” Brey said. “I know there's all those projections. He plays with the poise and pace now of an older player. They've done a great job bringing him along, putting him in situations where he can be really successful. He's an amazingly gifted guy, and he has a great demeanor. He just kind of stays calm and plays.

“What's shocking is, when you're standing on the floor, how big he is. His size is imposing that he gets up over the top of people.”

Tatum had a thunderous putback dunk in the first half. He gave the Blue Devils a 66-65 lead with a free throw off a strong drive with 2:02 left. On the ensuing Notre Dame possession, he blocked a shot by Vasturia and took the rebound the length of the court for a layup to make it 68-65.

Senior guard Matt Jones then hit a key 3-pointer to extend the lead to 71-67. The Irish never recovered from that sequence.

“The Matt Jones three is on me because I told him run at him,” Brey said. “I told Matt Farrell, we've got to run at him. To his credit, (Tatum) made a great pass, and Jones made a big jumper.

“The thing of it was, we weren't helping much because we were giving up twos. And the score — they couldn't get away from us. Even though they shot a high percentage, they weren't ripping it from three, and we were able to stay in it and hang in there. But we ran at them, and they've delivered. They've done that in the last three games. They've really made big shots to win the thing. I take my hat off to them.”

SHOTS DON'T FALL

The Irish shot just 40 percent Saturday, connecting on just 6-of-25 3-point attempts. Vasturia, Beachem, junior guard Matt Farrell and sophomore guard Rex Pflueger each had one 3 apiece.

“We got the usual great looks we're used to getting,” Beachem said. “We might have been a little tired, but we just didn't knock them down. We got some rest and some time to get our legs under us and come back ready to play next weekend.”

A night after scoring 18 points in a win over Florida State, Vasturia scored just five points on 2-of-9 shooting.

“We got great looks, and we usually step up and knock them down,” Vasturia said. “That’s all you can ask for. Matt did a great job of getting guys open and finding them. We'll take those shots every day. It's up to us to knock them down.”

NOW THEY WAIT

Notre Dame will find out its NCAA Tournament destination at 5:30 p.m. on CBS. Unlike previous years, the entire bracket will be released early in the show.

The Irish bolstered their tournament resume with ACC tourney wins over Virginia and Florida State. Various bracket projections have Notre Dame as either a four or five seed in the 68-team tournament.

ODDS & ENDS

• Colson and Farrell were named All-Tournament first team. Colson averaged 22.7 points and 8.3 rebounds in the three games. Farrell averaged 14 points in the tournament. Vasturia made the All-Tournament second team.

Duke’s Luke Kennard — who had 16 points against the Irish — was the tournament MVP.

• Notre Dame and Duke exchanged the lead eight times Saturday. The Blue Devils led for 27 minutes, 50 seconds; the Irish led for 10:29.

• The Irish forced 12 turnovers and turned those into 20 points.

• A night after sophomore wing Matt Ryan scored 11 points and hit three 3-pointers off the bench, Irish reserves had just two points against Duke. Those came on a pair of free throws by Ryan. Freshman guard T.J. Gibbs played just three minutes.

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