Tyler Thornton, Austin Rivers lead Duke past Virginia Tech 60-56

By Paul Newberry

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 9 2012 7:35 p.m. MST

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzweski, left, speaks to an official during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, Friday, March 9, 2012, in Atlanta.

Chuck Burton, Associated Press

ATLANTA — Robert Brown pulled up for a little 10-foot bank shot that wasn't even close, the ball clanking off the side of the rim as his shoulders slumped. Virginia Tech hustled for the offensive rebound, setting up Erick Green for a drive to the hoop.

The ball spun all the way around the iron — and out.

Green broke into a flabbergasted smile as he headed the other way.

Nothing, it seemed, would go in for the Hokies on this night.

Tyler Thornton scored a career-best 13 points, Austin Rivers hustled for a clinching three-point play and sixth-ranked Duke held on for a 60-56 victory over cold-shooting Virginia Tech in the ACC quarterfinals Friday.

If the Hokies could've made just a few more shots, they might've derailed the Blue Devils (27-5) in their quest for a fourth straight tournament title and 11th in 14 years.

Instead, Virginia Tech (16-17) went more than 8 minutes in the second half without a field goal. The Hokies needed a late flourish just to nudge its shooting percentage above 30 percent.

The Hokies put it up 53 times. Only 16 went in.

"Offensively, we weren't very good. That's just the reality," coach Seth Greenberg said. "We had opportunities. We just didn't finish."

The Hokies endured their first losing season since 2006 and will miss the NCAAs for the fifth straight year.

Greenberg got a little testy when questioned about the direction of his program.

"I'm very proud of what we've accomplished," he said. "Prior to this season, we've won 20 games four of the last five years. We've won nine games twice in the ACC, 10 games twice, got to the semifinals of the ACC tournament. If you don't think that's good, that's your problem."

No one questions Duke's program, especially at this tournament. The Blue Devils made it 10 straight victories since their last loss in the 2008 semifinals, despite an ugly offensive night of their own. They connected on just 20 of 54 shots (37 percent).

"I don't try to coach stats," Duke's Mike Krzyzewski said. "I try to coach wins. Our kids have a lot of heart."

Even with a key member of their rotation, forward Ryan Kelly, sitting out the games in Atlanta because of a sprained right foot, Duke advanced to face No. 17 Florida State or Miami on Saturday. And, of course, the Blue Devils would like another crack at their most bitter rival, No. 4 North Carolina, in Sunday's final.

"These kids are pretty resilient," Krzyzewski said. "We try to hang in there."

While Thornton, averaging just 3.7 points a game, provided the unexpected offense, Rivers came up with the biggest play of the game. The Hokies trailed 55-51 and were looking to make it a one-possession game when Green drove toward the lane and put up a one-hander. It ricocheted off the rim — appropriate for Virginia Tech on this night — and Miles Plumlee got a hand on the ball, swatting it toward midcourt.

Four players took off in hot pursuit, two from each team. Rivers, the freshman son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, got there first, scooped it up and kept right on going. He made the layup, drew a foul on Brown and knocked down the free throw with 15.1 seconds remaining.

"That's the first sprint I've seen Austin win this year," Krzyzewski joked. "I should've known better. I need to put a ball out in front of him, where he thinks he might score, when we do our sprints. Then he might win a few more."

Rivers finished with 17 points, while Mason Plumlee chipped in with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Thornton, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, had not attempted more than six shots in a game all season. He put it up a staggering 16 times — all but three of them from beyond the 3-point arc. Three of those went down, and Duke needed every one to hold off the feisty Hokies.

"I had open shots," Thornton said. "I was going to take them."

That was Virginia Tech's plan all along. It didn't work out.

"We wanted to make Tyler Thornton beat us, plain and simple," Greenberg said.

It was amazing Virginia Tech hung around as long as it did. After Green's jumper with 13:14 remaining, the Hokies didn't score again until Brown hit a short fallaway jumper with 4:53 left to make it 50-42.

Brown and Green led the Hokies with 16 points apiece, but Green made only 3-of-16 shots. He did most of his damage at the foul line, going 9-for-9.

"We couldn't capitalize in the lane like we needed to," said Dorenzo Hudson, held to 6 points on 3-of-9 shooting. "I felt like we needed just that one burst to get us over the hump."

It never came, so Duke is moving on.

Again.

"I'm really proud of our team," Rivers said. "We didn't shoot the ball well, but we didn't let that dictate our defense. I think we've learned in that area."

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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