ACC Basketball

Duke Wins Classic Over North Carolina

Mark Dolejs/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Wow, that was one of the best I’ve seen, which is not an easy thing to say in this rivalry, but it’s true. The Blue Devils somehow, some way escape with a 92-90 overtime victory over their neighbors from Chapel Hill. To just get to overtime, Duke had to rally from nine down with just 158 seconds left to play in regulation and then the two teams swapped the lead five times in the extra period, before the Blue Devils prevailed.

Early on, it looked like it might be a blowout, as Duke came out gunning like they had some place to be. Pushing the ball in transition for easy layups and nailing threes from deep, the Blue Devils hit 12 of their first 14 shots, opening up a 12-point lead. Of course North Carolina’s defense has been awful lately, so it was no surprise they looked baffled early. They were unable to keep the Duke guards out of the paint and 12 minutes in, they had yet to grab an offensive rebound.

However, the Tar Heels finally started to get aggressive in the paint, as Brice Johnson got a couple easy layups, followed by a pair by Kennedy Meeks. Eventually, they started to crash the glass, as the Blue Devils got sloppy and even though it seemed like Duke had dominated, Carolina was down just four when the Cameron Crazies got silent when Jahlil Okafor laid on the floor after stepping on Meeks’ foot.

Yet, with Okafor in the training room, Duke did what they’ve done all year when the freshmen has been out of the lineup..they produced, going on a 9-0 run, opening up a 13-point lead. Okafor would make his way back in with two minutes left to play, but he was clearly not the same player and Carolina took advantage, going on a 6-0 run, cutting Duke’s lead to seven at the half.

In the second half, the Tar Heels looked like a new team. They were owning the boards like they had a mortgage and their offense was suddenly unstoppable. While Brice Johnson was leading the way (12 points at the half), Roy Williams got scoring from odd places. J.P. Tokoto played more aggressive than I’ve ever seen him play, finishing with 15 points. Isaiah Hicks hit 5-9, Nate Britt scored 11 and even Joel Berry hit a three.

The Tar Heels took the lead five minutes into the second half and it looked like it was only a matter of time before they walked away with this one. They had all the energy, Duke had none as Coach K only played six players in the second half and refused to switch to the 2-3 zone to slow the Tar Heels down. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils couldn’t hold onto the ball (16 turnovers for the game) and Okafor was really struggling, both with his ankle and with Carolina’s physical play. After his injury, he made just 1-4 shots, turning it over twice, going 0-6 from the FT line.

With 2:38 on the clock, Tokoto would hit a tough shot over Matt Jones, building Carolina’s lead to nine. Since Duke had that 13-point lead at the end of the first, the Tar heels had gone on a 43-21 run, scoring almost exclusively in the paint. This is what I had to say at that moment:

What a fool I am sometimes. I clearly had not seen enough Buffalo Wild Wings commercials.

Actually, I’m not going to blame my second favorite restaurant chain. Instead, I’m laying the blame where it should be…North Carolina.

First, in that final 2:38, their defense disappeared. They gave up an easy dunk to Winslow, allowed Duke to have three chances in their next possession and then let freshmen Tyus Jones run past them like they were trapped in cement. He scored nine straight points by simply taking on his defender one-on-one and beating him to the basket.

Now Carolina fans will of course blame the refs (as every losing team does when they’ve been whistled for more fouls) and will certainly be littering Twitter with screen grabs to prove their point. They will also blame the clock issues for those missed free throws, but I won’t.

First, just once I want to see a losing fan base say, “man we would have won if our team didn’t foul so much.” The first fan to do that, your team will be my new favorite team. The fact is, North Carolina clearly made the decision to play physical. It was a strategy that pretty much worked out until the end. When you play physical, more fouls get called on you.

Second, yes if you’re trying to seal a game with free throws (Natt Britt, Brice Johnson) you don’t want the refs looking at the monitor for five minutes before you take one. Yet, if you want to be a great player, if you want to be a great team, you need to suck it up and make those shots.

In the end, all of the Blue Devils’ starters scored in double figures. Quinn Cook nailed six threes, finishing with 22 points, while Tyus Jones once again dominated a ranked team, scoring 22 points, grabbing seven boards and dishing out eight assists. Okafor finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds. They improve to 23-3 on the year and should maintain a hold on a 1-seed.

North Carolina’s big’s came up big, as Meeks and Johnson both finished with 18, although they committed nine fouls between them, but worse yet, Marcus Paige could never get away from Quinn Cook. He shot 2-11 from the floor, scoring just five points. They have now dropped four of five, three of which have been to ranked teams.

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  1. Pingback: Blue Devils Travel Down Tobacco Road – ACC Basketball

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