Thornton's clutch 3-pointers spur Duke

Associated Press  |  Last updated November 24, 2011
Duke is still the king of Maui. Tyler Thornton made sure of it. Thornton capped a thrilling game between basketball behemoths, hitting an off-balance 3-pointer with 20 seconds left to give the sixth-ranked Blue Devils enough cushion to finish off a 68-61 win over No. 14 Kansas for its fifth Maui Invitational title. Thornton hit one 3-pointer with 1:10 left and gave the Blue Devils the cushion they needed with his second, the shot clock winding down, a host of Jayhawks in his face. Thornton's big 3s kept Duke (7-0) undefeated in Maui Invitational at 15-0. The Blue Devils and Jayhawks went toe-to-toe from the start, electrifying the crowd with the kind of compelling counterpunching you'd expect from blue-blood programs. Unleashing an array of alley-oops, 3-pointers and teeth-jarring picks, they never let the other get too far ahead, with 16 lead changes and 12 ties. It, of course, came down to a thrilling finish. Thornton provided the final fireworks, hitting his first 3-pointer to Duke up two and the did-he-just-do-that one after the Blue Devils forced Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor into his 11th turnover. Ryan Kelly hurt Kansas with his inside-outside game, scoring 17 points to earn MVP honors. Mason Plumlee gave the Jayhawks fits inside with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Kansas (4-1) stayed with Duke until the end despite Taylor's careless ways, taking a 61-60 lead on Elijah Johnson's 3-pointer with 1:33 left. It turned out to be the Jayhawks' last time in front, thanks to Thornton. Thomas Robinson had 16 points and 15 rebounds, and Jeff Withey had 14 points and 10 rebounds. Taylor had 17 points. This rare early matchup of college basketball powers had the potential to be one of the most exciting in the 28-year history of the Maui Invitational. Duke's resume includes four national titles, the winningest coach in Division I history -- Mike Krzyzewski passed mentor Bobby Knight last week -- and as strong a following as any team in the country. Kansas has three national titles, a coach who's won 83 percent of his games in Bill Self and is right up there with the Blue Devils as a fan favorite. Duke lost its top three scorers from last season, reloaded with another stellar recruiting class, headed by Rivers. Big, versatile and athletic, the Blue Devils outlasted Tennessee to win their Maui opener, then shot past No. 15 Michigan in the semifinals. Kansas lost a good chunk of its top end, too, not mention half of its heralded recruiting class because of eligibility issues. Still, the Jayhawks have Robinson, Taylor and three of those talented freshmen. Kansas opened the Maui Invitational by bumping off gritty Georgetown, then outlasted UCLA in the semifinals after nearly blowing all of a 20-point lead. By getting through one of the toughest brackets ever at the Maui Invitational, these two elite teams set up a championship game that figured to be as sparkling as the Pacific Ocean just outside. The atmosphere fit the matchup, with the rowdy fans from each team trading chants, cheers and boos. The show lived up to the billing, starting with Rivers' deep, leg-splaying 3-pointer for the game's first points and an alley-oop by Mile Plumlee. Robinson shook off a shot to the face in the first 15 seconds to throw down a pose-after-it dunk and Taylor had a surprising three-point play on his way to 13 first-half points, asking his teammates with an incredulous look if the shot went in. Kansas also got a lift from Withey, who had 10 points after averaging 6.3 the first four games, to take a 35-31 lead at halftime. The highlights continued in the second half. Withey scored on an alley-oop from Taylor, who had an up-and-under reverse layup the next trip. Curry opened with a 3-pointer, Kelly followed with one of his own. It kept going like that until Thornton provided the knockout blow in a memorable Maui finale.
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