It was, as they say, a tale of two halves. UNC had little trouble with Duke in the first, but in the second, the Devils calmed down and began to play their game, and they made their biggest halftime comeback since 1959.
In the first half, Coach K said, his team was too excited
"They were just so fast in that first half I thought they knocked us back. We seemed scattered. We were ready to play and sometimes you get so ready to play that you go nuts. I just felt we were kind of nuts in the first half. Not for lack of effort or anything like that. At halftime â and I donât usually do this â I usually just say something to them and let them relax a little bit or get their thoughts together. I must have talked to them for about five minutes. We didnât yell or anything like that. We were just trying to say, âsettle down, settle down.â Weâre a lot better than that."
It was a really unusual first half for Duke. They couldn't seem to get loose balls or break up fast breaks.Â And as imposing as John Henson and Tyler Zeller were, the key to this team is without question Kendall Marshall.
It's hard to tell on TV just how good this kid is. He is a special player. His court vision is ridiculous. He's seeing things two steps ahead of everybody else. Everyone focuses on his physical limitations and he is not an elite athlete in that sense.
But we have to tell you, the kid plays a hell of a lot like Jason Kidd.Â He runs the same way, has the same alertness, and the same ability to spot a pass that no one else can see.Â You don't have to be elite physically if you are off the charts mentally.
We're not sure he will get the attention he should for Rookie Of The Year.Â in our mind, with Kyrie Irving out, he is the he is the best freshman hands down and should be the winner. Who else has had that much impact on their team?Â Leslie?Â Barnes?Â Please.
You have to watch the guy every second, because he sees things that no one else on the court is seeing.Â The last guy we saw visit Cameron with that much court sense was Stephen Curry. Hear it now, believe it later: Marshall is freaky good.Â From here on out, you cannot beat this team without controlling Marshall.Â He's capable of gutting a team, just gutting them, and without even necessarily crossing halfcourt to do it.
Fortunately for Duke, the second half was very different than the first.Â Duke put a bit of a blanket on Marshall and Nolan Smith and Seth Curry came through big time.
In fact, we all remember the Duhon game, and older fans will remember the Robbie West game, the Gene Banks game, the Fred Lind game and the Heyman game.
Arguably, this game was the Curry game, because in the second half, Curry was superb: between the 13:50 mark and the 9:48 mark, Curry hit four straight shots for nine points and did as much as anyone could to turn this game around.
Perhaps sensing a hot hand (or realizing that this wasn't Tyler Thornton's night), Coach K started Curry in the second half and he and Smith scored around 40 points after the break.Â Smith hit a new career high with 34; he also had just two turnovers for the game.Â So take your pick; both were brilliant.Â Still, a special word for Smith:Â the guy has elevated his game tremendously.Â It's getting amazing to watch him; it's like he just takes dares and trashes them.
Basically, a young UNC team got a graphic demonstration of the importance of continuing to play hard.
In the first half, they did a much better job of this than did Duke.Â The Tar Heels beat the Devils in nearly every loose rebound and forced nine first-half turnovers.
Carolina made it look easy, but it didn't stay that way for long.
After the break, Duke cut the lead to six points fairly quickly and finally took the lead - for good - on a Ryan Kelly three pointer at the 9:14 mark.
Talk about a complete turnaround.
This again was a lesson for the Tar Heels. When Duke surged, UNC stumbled. They weren't as aggressive as they had been and Duke began to beat them to loose balls and rebounds, and the Tar Heels started to turn the ball over.
In a nutshell, the tougher, more experienced team managed to take advantage of a younger, emerging one.
It's a game that both teams can profit from.Â For Duke,Â they showed a lot of heart and grit, which will serve them well the rest of the way. Seth Curry may also have arrived as a star.
If he can continue to contribute on a high level and Mason Plumlee can continue to develop offensively, Duke is going to get awfully tough.
Watching Carolina brings back the central mystery of this team: why is Harrison Barnes such a minimal factor?
We noticed him twice: once upon a powerful drive with a and explosiveness we have not seen before, and two, near the end when he wanted to go into his Black Falcon routine and rescue the team, which he couldn't do.
Other than that, quite honestly, we had to keep checking to see if he was in the game or not.Â It's amazing that a guy that talented can make himself so invisible.Â They used to say only Dean Smith could stop Michael Jordan; apparently only Harrison Barnes can stop Harrison Barnes.
UNC in many ways is an interesting team.Â There are a lot of rough edges, but definitely some intriguing pieces.
In a year or two, Henson could be the best big man in the country.Â He has a rare combination of athleticism and length. He's kind of like a super tall Reggie Miller, but with vastly more talent. When he fills out he'll be a monster.
Tyler Zeller is a very effective player, but in many respects he's mechanical, the exact opposite of the fluid Henson. He plays like a bit of a dilettante, a guy who would rather be orthodox and miss than a guy who dares to improvise. If basketball is jazz, Zeller plays a church organ.
Not to say that he is not effective because he is.Â We justÂ figured that by now, he might loosen up some, put his stamp on the team.
Dexter Strickland was not effective although he is talented, and we have already raved about Marshall.
Carolina got minimal support from the bench with just 11 points and nine rebounds.
Despite Marshall's brilliant passing eye, Duke held him to 3-11 from the floor, and about halfway through the second half, Carolina shifted ballhandling over to Strickland for a while before giving Marshall a blow.
We really thought that he was too worn down to be effective, but end of the game he was the one making plays for UNC.
Still, Duke's defense was more more difficult to deal with as the game went on, and at the end, the pressure was too much to overcome.Â It was like watching a python take a rabbit.Â The rabbit fights, but with every exhale the coils grow tighter and breathing harder.Â By the end of the game, UNC couldn't really breathe.Â Â And to date, that's the difference between these two teams.
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