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Jim Sumner On Duke-UNC!

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Lots of Duke-Carolina games remind me of the Super Bowl. The reality doesn't always match the hype. But last night reality took hype to the woodshed and beat it senseless.

Duke absorbed some pretty serious blows from North Carolina last night, trailing by as much as 16 points in the first half before rallying for a pulsating 79-73 win, a hard-earned victory over a talented and inspired opponent that never could deliver the knock-out blow.

The first half was an object lesson in how not to play North Carolina. You do not want to get into a track meet with these guys. Not only are most of their small guys quicker than most of your small guys but some of their big guys are quicker than your small guys.

But Duke struggled early, giving Carolina lots of chances to get out and run. Duke was behind 7-0 before they hit even the rim.

It's not clear what happened. Kyle Singler said Duke wasn't tight early, just didn't play well. Mike Krzyzewski used words like "nutty" and "scattered" to describe Duke's first-half performance.

Duke looked like they were going to be able to dig themselves out of hole, closing to 14-12 on Nolan Smith 3-pointer. But it seemed like every missed shot, every live-ball turnover led to a UNC fast-break. "They were so fast in the first half, they knocked us back," Krzyzewski said.

Duke started getting some defensive stops in the middle of the half, holding UNC to two points over a five-minute spell. But Duke went scoreless during that period, It stayed 25-19 for more than three minutes and Duke was stuck on 19 for 4:40. UNC's biggest lead was 43-27 before Seth Curry gave Duke a little momentum with a tough jumper.

Still, 43-29 wasn't what the doctor ordered. Duke committed nine turnovers in the half against an anemic three assists, was outrebounded 27-18 and made only a single foul shot.

Krzyzewski said there was no yelling at halftime but he talked longer than usual, telling his team to "settle down. We're a lot better than that. Let's execute."

Several things improved in the second half. Nolan Smith said the key was attacking. Did he ever. Carolina simply couldn't keep Smith out of the lane. Smith ended with a career-high 34 points, each bigger than the last. Smith almost by himself got Carolina in foul trouble.

Krzyzewski called Smith's performance "off the charts."

But his offensive support came not from Singler but from Seth Curry, who played his best game in a Duke uniform. Curry hit a 3 to make it 43-37, jumpers to make the score 49-43 and 51-47 and another jumper that tied the game at 54-54, with 9:45 left. At that point, Curry and Smith were the only Duke players to have hit a field goal in the second half.

Ryan Kelly ended that with a 3 at the 9:14 mark that gave Duke a 57-55 lead, its first lead 31 minutes into the game.

But there were other contributors. Duke only turned the ball over three times in the second half. Kelly and the Plumlees competed better against Carolina's big men, John Henson and Tyler Zeller, as Duke won the second-half battle of the boards 23-20. Krzyzewski said called Henson is "unique" and called him one of the best big men in the country.

And I freely confess that I love Zeller's hustle and old-school offensive game, complete with drop steps, up-and-unders, hooks, tips and pretty much everything else you need to score 24 points on 14 shots. But Plumlee, Plumlee and Kelly fought for 24 rebounds and four blocks and didn't concede a thing down the stretch.

Roy Williams said his team lost its poise a bit in the second half. "We've got to have more maturity than that. Against Duke you've got to make great cuts, make solid screens. It was partly Duke's defense and partly us not being tough enough."

Duke never relinquished the lead but the Devils never got a lot of separation either. Their biggest lead was six. Carolina couldn't connect from long-range. They made only a pair of 3-pointers, both in the first half.

Krzyzewski said the goal was to turn UNC's freshman point guard Kendall Marshall into a scorer not a distributor. Marshall shot 3-11 and none of his six assists were on 3-pointers.

The coup de grace came with Duke up 75-71, 17 seconds left. With Carolina crowding the in-bounds pass, Singler, a former prep quarterback, hit Smith with a touchdown that wrapped it up. Singler only scored 10 points but his tough defense on Harrison Barnes held him to 9. Krzyzewski said Singler "sacrificed" his offense for his defense.

Smith used the word "tough" a lot to describe Duke's second-half defense and called the result a great win. "I've watched a lot of Duke-Carolina games and this is one of my favorites." I've watched a lot more and I would agree.


Krzyzewski called Carolina "as good as any team we've played" and then turned cheerleader, trying to make a case for the ACC getting as many as six NCAA teams. Given the league's woeful RPI, it's likely a futile cause.

Seth Curry played 35 minutes and did not leave the game during the second half. Tyler Thornton got his third start but played only three minutes. Kyle Singler played 40 minutes for the third time this season.

Duke's win marks the first time they have won back-to-back games against Carolina in Cameron since 2004 and 2005.

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