Big Play Jay delivers in clutch for Duke to clinch ACC Tournament

When Duke needed a run, Jayson Tatum was clutch again to finish miracle Brooklyn run

Brad Penner—USA Today Sports
Duke Blue Devils forward Jayson Tatum (0) drives against Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Matt Ryan (4) and Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Rex Pflueger (0) and Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Austin Torres (1) and Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Steve Vasturia (32) during the second half of the ACC Conference Tournament final at Barclays Center.

BROOKLYN — Every time Duke needed a signature moment in the final two nights of the ACC Tournament, it was Jayson Tatum who delivered. After putting up 20 points or more in three consecutive games, Tatum’s dunks against UNC and Notre Dame delivered a fatal blow.On Friday night, Tatum’s emphatic dunk started a run that would win the rivalry matchup. On Saturday, it was Tatum who put the final dagger in the Irish’s heart to win an improbable ACC Tournament after winning four straight games for the first time in conference history.”Sealed the deal, right?” Harry Giles said with a smile. “He’s ‘Big Play Jay.’ He’s gonna get it done every time. I know him. I knew he was going to get it done. He wanted to win the game just as bad as everybody else did. Plays like that get you going. … Him finishing that dunk was everything.”Tatum may have made the critical play, but it was set up by a veteran.”That was big,” Tatum said. “Matt [Jones] made eye contact with me and he said, ‘If they overplay me, just go long.’ He threw a perfect pass and I was just able to finish it.”Tatum finished the ACC Tournament with 88 points in the four games, just two points shy of passing the freshman record set by Brandon Costner in 2007. Of course, Tatum has slightly more talent around him than Costner had in 2007, making his performance on a loaded Duke team even more improbable.When the confetti fell and the trophies were handed out, it wasn’t Tatum who came away with MVP. That’s partially because he scored eight of his 19 points along with a block, defensive rebound and assist in the final 3:41 of the game — the ballots were handed in at the four-minute mark.”I’m not sure,” Kennard said with a laugh. “Jayson played unbelievable this tournament. Unbelievable. I’m so proud of the way that he grew as a player throughout the entire year. What he did in this tournament was something special.”Shining on the big stage and powerful dunks are nothing new for Tatum.Earlier in the season, one of the biggest plays of the year came when Tatum slammed home a dunk against North Carolina over Kennedy Meeks. It helped swing the momentum for Duke early in the second half in a win over the Tar Heels in Cameron.He may be gaining notoriety for his flair for emphatic dunks, but assistant coach Jon Scheyer — a former Duke player who knows a thing or two about showing up in the clutch — doesn’t just believe he’s one of the best player on the Devils’ roster right now.”He’s been rock solid for us,” Scheyer said. “We go to him throughout the entire game and he controls it for us. He gets key baskets, he’s rebounding, he’s passing it really well. He’s been, I think, as good as anybody in the country, if not better. He’s really helped us big time.”So have we seen the ceiling for Tatum at this point?