Though it was a tight game for a good while, UNC pulled away from Duke in the last 10 minutes behind a tremendous performance from Ty Lawson.
Duke fell behind early in the game as UNC opted to go to Deon Thompson a lot early.Â Duke was obviously keying on Tyler Hansbrough and the three point shooters, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green, and really, they did a fair job on all three.Â Hansbrough finished with 17 and six boards, Green finished with 15 points and five boards, and Ellington was held to 4-15 for 15 points, although he did grab seven boards.
But Duke began to play hard and came back from an 11 point deficit and made Carolina play on their terms for awhile.Â In the middle of the game, Duke was more aggressive, and UNC was responding rather than dictating.
In the second half, though, things tightened up considerably, and when UNC regained the lead at 67-65 on Ellington's only three of the game, it wasn't long before Lawson took over.
Duke simply had no answer for him.Â It was reminiscent of the Kentucky game in the Elite Eight in St. Petersburg, when their point guard led a massive comeback. Duke simply couldn't stop him.
Same thing here.Â Lawson drove the lane and broke down the defense. If he wasn't scoring he was passing off.Â Lawson ended up with 17 points in the last 10 minutes of the game, including a pair of back-to-back baskets about 15 seconds apart.
At one point, Coach K jumped up and tried to get Nolan Smith in for Greg Paulus, since Lawson was ripping by Paulus.Â Didn't matter.Â Duke didn't have an answer.
His play opened things up for Green and Ellington as well, and when Hansbrough hit a contested three pointer, well, that was pretty much it.
Still, Duke tried to fight their way back into it, and almost did.Â Down 17 with 3:42 left, Duke cut it to eight with 1:26 left.Â But Ellington, Lawson, and Hansbrough each hit a pair of free throws to push it back to a 12 point lead.
In the rematch, Duke's going to have to come up with a different plan for Lawson, obviously, but there were still some positive signs in this game.
First of all, unlike three of the previous four halves, Duke really fought.Â UNC tried to batter them with size early and they pushed back, and pulled ahead on grit and effort.Â There were some bad mismatches for Duke in this one, but for a good while, they overcame them.
Second, Duke is, increasingly, getting really solid efforts from Dave McClure, Greg Paulus, and Lance Thomas.Â More importantly, all three guys are asserting themselves within the team.Â Paulus took charge against Miami, but McClure was huge on the boards, and Thomas was incredibly passionate in the huddles.
They won't always have huge stats, but all three guys have grown a lot lately.
And while he was still erratic and couldn't stop Lawson, Nolan Smith was determined to make a difference offensively, and he did: he shot 5-9 for 11 points and had five boards, two assists, and two steals.
Tonight this game stinks, because no one from Duke likes losing to UNC.Â In the long run, though, we may look back at the Clemson, Miami and UNC stretch as a part of the season where Duke grew up. But don't take our word for it.Â Here's Coach K on the same theme:
"Carolina played great. And we didnât play poorly, we played hard. I thought overall we played well, but weâre not as good as they are right now. Theyâre better than us, and sometimes a team thatâs better doesnât play as well as that, but they played that way too. Itâs going to be difficult to beat them. We just have to keep getting better. Weâve come a long away from last Wednesday and we just have to keep improving.â