By Martin Rickman
March 15, 2014

Jabari Parker (center) and Rodney Hood were strong on both sides of the ball to help Duke advance to the ACC final. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)Jabari Parker (center) and Rodney Hood were strong on both sides of the ball in Duke's win. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Duke 75, NC State 67: There’s something satisfying about seeing NC State and Duke squaring off in Greensboro for a chance to play in the ACC championship. Like having the dishes carefully put away in the cabinet or a freshly washed car. It can never last, but for that brief moment in time, everything feels right.

The Blue Devils used a 9-0 run after the game was tied at 45 to start to pull away from the Wolfpack, who wilted after playing their third game in three days. NC State shot just 35 percent in the second half and started to make mental mistakes, allowing Duke to take control.

Duke playing on Saturday with the roster the Blue Devils have isn’t really a surprise. This year’s NC State team on the other hand? That’s partly a testament to the Wolfpack’s ability to turn it on in the tournament setting. This team was inconsistent and far too often relied on all-world talent T.J. Warren to do everything.

Had NC State played at this level more often during the season, there wouldn’t have been a bubble debate to be had. Don’t lose games to Wake Forest or Miami, pull out one of the close ones against Syracuse and UNC, and this game becomes just about seeding. That said, the Wolfpack will be sweating it out on Sunday, whether former players feel confident or not.

We went 9-9 in the ACC, got two more wins (beat top10 Cuse). Beat FSU (who everyone had in tourney week ago). We GOOD. #NCAAtourney

— Julius Hodge (@Follow24Hodge) March 15, 2014

The two teams were scorching from the field in the first half (State shot 66.7 percent, while Duke was 15-of-30), playing efficiently and taking care of the basketball. It was a nice contrast to the defensive grind of the afternoon’s earlier game between Virginia and Pittsburgh.

Warren was efficient in the first half but started pressing in the second. He looked fatigued, putting up 21 points on 10-of-22 shooting. For Duke, this was the type of balanced effort the Blue Devils will need come NCAA tournament time. Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon were each in double figures.

Virginia 51, Pittsburgh 48: Virginia accelerates like an old Cadillac. It might take a bit to get going, but if that boat of a car gets enough space to get up to cruising speed there’s seemingly no way to stop it. The Cavaliers, the top seed in the ACC tournament by way of a regular season title, took their two-ton basketball team to the finals with a close win over Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon.

This thing was as low scoring as you’d think a game between Pittsburgh and Virginia would be. The two teams were so evenly matched during the first meeting it took a late-game play that didn’t even work in practice (ending in a Malcolm Brogdon three-pointer) to give the Cavaliers the win in Pittsburgh on Feb. 2. This time around, it was a one-point game with 10 seconds to play after Pitt’s James Robinson got the layup through contact off a steal. Virginia's defense came through after a pair of Anthony Gill free throws, and Justin Anderson blocked the three-point attempt to protect the win.

Brogdon was a bit of a hero again against the Panthers, this time opting to spread his play out over the course of the game rather than a singular moment. The sophomore had 10 points on 5-of-11 shooting, adding three rebounds and three assists. His effort covered up a relatively poor shooting game from Joe Harris, who looked a bit tired on his jumpers. Harris was 2-of-7 in the first half and finished 5-of-12 (2-of-7 on threes) with 12 points.

Pitt star Lamar Patterson also had a tough time getting going, scoring just two points in the first half. He looked like he was going to find his rhythm, hitting back-to-back threes early in the second period before falling into another cold spell. He finished with 15 points and was just 2-of-8 from beyond the arc. Talib Zanna continued his stellar play during the ACC tournament for the Panthers, collecting 15 points and nine rebounds, and Virginia really didn’t have an answer for him early on.

Akil Mitchell

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