ACC Basketball

Blue Devils Sweep Tar Heels

AP Photo

WHAT JUST HAPPENED

For a while there, this second game between Duke and North Carolina looked a lot like the first one. The Blue Devils came out on fire, hitting their first five shots to open up an early eight-point lead, while North Carolina struggled to do what they are known for doing…grabbing offensive rebounds, somehow allowing Tyus Jones to own the weak side and grab six defensive boards in the first half.

Yet, behind Brice Johnson’s scoring and some solid defense, the Blue Devils would hit just five of their next 25 shots and Carolina would take the lead after a Marcus Paige three with six minutes left in the first half. Around the three-minute mark, the Tar Heels started to take control on the boards, grabbing seven in just two possessions, opening up a six-point lead, but they still let Duke have a mini-7-2 run to end the half down. Neither team shot the ball particularly well, as they combined to miss 40 shots in the game’s first 20 minutes.

In the second, North Carolina opened the lead back to seven points after a flagrant-one foul on Justise Winslow, yet the Tar Heels just couldn’t pull away. They let Duke hang and eventually the Blue Devils went on a 14-2 run in the span of five minutes, as Duke turned a seven-point deficit into a five-point lead.

The Blue Devils would eventually strength it to a nine-point advantage thanks to a trio of Carolina turnovers with around five to play and then simply wrapped it up by hitting 10-for-11 at the line, winning 84-77.

NOT-SO-DEEP THOUGHTS

  • There were two moments in the second half where I thought North Carolina was going to pull away. Let’s touch on the first one here. When Justise Winslow picked up that flagrant foul two minutes into the second half, Carolina had a two-point lead. They would make two free throws, get the ball back and nail a three. The five-point possession gave the Tar Heels a seven-point lead. More importantly, Winslow had three fouls. Yet, Coach K didn’t sit him and it paid off, as the Duke freshman personally erased those five points with a three-point shot, followed by a dunk, refusing to hand over momentum to North Carolina.
  •  The second key moment when I thought the  Tar Heels would pull away was when Tyus Jones hurt his back at the 13-minute mark. At that moment, UNC had a three-point lead and Duke had Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow all on the bench. Of the five on the floor, Cook was the only proven scorer. This was the kind of lineup that North Carolina should own. They didn’t. After Paige hit a pair of FT’s, the Blue Devils would get offensive rebounds in both of their next two possessions and turned them into points by Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones. Then a minute later, Greyson Allen nailed a three. With their three big freshmen on the bench, Duke went on a 7-0 run and took the lead and took over.
  • Brice Johnson finished with 17 points, hitting 8-for-12 from the floor, but he really did disappear for long stretches in this game. He had his first nine points in the game’s first nine minutes, but then he would make just two more buckets in the game’s next 20 minutes, going 14 minutes during Duke’s big run without making a basket. Some of it was the fact that the Blue Devils went bigger, but I feel like there needs to be more set plays for Carolina’s best scorer.
  • Even though North Carolina is supposed to dominate a team like Duke on the boards, the Blue Devils have done a great job keeping up with the Tar Heels. In their first meeting, Carolina was just +3 on the glass (although +7 in the offensive glass). Saturday night, each team had 32 boards. North Carolina won the offensive rebounding battle 13-11, but seven of those came in just two possessions back-to-back. For Duke, it was a team effort as five players grabbed at least four rebounds, yet it was Tyus Jones and his six defensive boards in the first half that set the tone.
  • Say what you want about Jahlil Okafor’s defense (and there is plenty to talk about), but when playing straight up D in the half court offense, he’s actually gotten a lot better. He stopped Brice a couple times and Kennedy Meeks was held to 1-for-7 from the floor.
  • Coming into this game, North Carolina was last in the ACC in fouls (258th in the nation). It was a problem in that first game as the Tar Heels committed 10 more fouls, allowing 11 more FTs. In this second game, it wasn’t much better. Duke doubled them up in free throws (26-13), although 11 of those came in the game’s final 90 seconds when North Carolina was fouling on purpose.
  • In their first meeting, Duke’s Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook combined for 44 points. In this one, they scored a combine 44 points again. You don’t need Will Hunting to know Duke’s starting guards combined for 88 points in two games. Like in their first meeting, Jones got his being aggressive, attacking the lane and on the FT line (he was 12-for-12 in free throws). Cook again did his damage from deep, hitting four threes, including three from Cook’s corner.

NOW WHAT

North Carolina falls to 21-10 on the year, 11-7 in the ACC. They’ll earn the 5-seed in the ACC Tournament and get the winner of the Boston College/Georgia Tech match up. However, this is a team that is just 4-6 in their last ten and those four wins came against the 110th, 91st, 55th and 91st ranked teams in Ken Pom’s rankings. They are just 1-6 against the top-25 and haven’t beaten a top-50 team since they beat NC State back in Mid-January (and the Wolfpack weren’t a top-50 team when they played them).

As for Duke, those awful 48 hours where they lost back-to-back games to NC State and Miami seems so long ago. They’ve won 11 in a row and wrap up the regular season 28-3, 15-3 in the ACC, earning the two seed in the conference tournament. They’ve earned a double bye, so we don’t know who their next opponent will be, although if things hold serve, it will be Miami.

At this point though, I have to believe the only way the Blue Devils don’t earn a top-seed in the Big Dance is if they don’t win at least one game in the ACC tournament. This is a team that has road wins at Wisconsin, at Louisville, at Virginia and at North Carolina. Impressive.

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