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Sumner: Duke Survives Heels, 73-68

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They aren't all aesthetic masterpieces. Sometimes, you have to grind them out.

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That's what Duke did Wednesday night, falling behind early but clawing back to a hard-fought 73-67 win over archrival North Carolina. The win keeps the Blue Devils undefeated at Cameron Indoor Stadium and runs their record to 22-2, 9-2 in the ACC.

Roy Williams threw a curve ball at Duke, starting James Michael McAdoo and four perimeter players, Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston, Dexter Strickland and Marcus Paige. The Tar Heels stayed with a small lineup most of the game and it knocked Duke back in the early going. A Strickland lay-up, a Bullock 3-pointer and a McAdoo dunk and the visitors were up 7-2. The Tar Heels beat Duke to loose balls and got inside off the dribble with regularity in the opening minutes.

This was the third consecutive season Duke has started slow at home against Carolina. But unlike last season's blow-out loss, Duke never let this one get completely away, although they came precariously close a couple of times. Duke fell behind 17-10, closed to 17-14, fell behind 21-14, closed to 21-18 and then fell back again.

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It was that kind of half, one step forward, one step back. Carolina's high-water mark came at 28-18, with about six minutes left. But Tyler Thornton hit Duke's only first-half 3-pointer to make it 30-25 and a Mason Plumlee dunk closed out the first-half scoring with a dunk off a Sulaimon assist.

It was 33-29, at the half and it could have been worse. Duke had three assists and 11 turnovers at the half, got only two points from Curry and made some truly head-scratching decisions. But Duke dug down on defense and held Carolina to five points over the final 6:42 to maintain contact.

Mike Krzyzewski said that he was worried that his team was out of gas at halftime.

It got worse before it got better. The Tar Heels grabbed three offensive rebounds on their first possession of the second half and drew Plumlee's third foul.

They got the lead back to 38-31. But the 3-point switch finally went on for Duke. Thornton hit his second 3-pointer to make it 38-35, then Curry gave Duke its first lead of the game with his first 3-pointer, 42-41, almost 26 minutes into the contest.

Duke did much of this while committing fouls at an unsustainable rate. Krzyzewski cited the "dumb fouls" and it's hard to argue. The Tar Heels were shooting the bonus at 13:55. At one point in the second half, Duke had 11 team fouls, North Carolina four.

A Plumlee lay-up put Duke up 52-47, with 11:36 left. The teams went four minutes after that without a single point, Duke unable to put it away, Carolina unable to cut into their deficit. Plumlee ended the streak with a hook in the lane.

"That's one of my go-to moves," Plumlee said. "I had to go so slow, because I didn't want to get another offensive foul. But once I got into the middle of the lane, it's just a touch shot. It felt good."

Plumlee picked up his fourth foul shortly after that but stayed on the court. "The coaches let me stay out on the floor, let Quinn stay out on the floor, let us play through it," Plumlee said. "That shows a lot of trust in your players."

But Krzyzewski may not have had much choice. Plumlee, Cook, Curry and Sulaimon played down the stretch with four fouls apiece.

The lead wobbled from three to eight points over the final 12 minutes, Duke getting the big bucket, the big rebound, the big stop, the big loose ball whenever their lead was endangered.

"It just comes down to the will to win," Sulaimon said. "We had to do little things like that to win, every one of us, you have to do stuff like that to win. I put my body on the line. I have lots of scratches and scars but they're going to feel good with the win."

Krzyzewski said his team was exhausted down the stretch but they had enough left to salt it away from the line. Duke went 12-12 from the line over the final 3:16, Curry, Plumlee, Sulaimon, Plumlee, Cook and Cook again knocking down six pairs of clutch foul shots.

Plumlee had another double-double, 18 points and 11 rebounds. But Cook matched him with 18 points. "Coach wants me to be aggressive," Cook said. "With Ryan out, me and Rasheed have to be a little more aggressive. Against Boston College, we weren't aggressive. When we're aggressive, we're at our best."

Krzyzewski added that Duke has been working on getting Cook into shooting position when he gives up the ball. Cook was 6-12 from the field, 6-6 from the line.

Sulaimon added 13 points, Curry 11. P.J. Hairston led all scorers with a career-high 23 points. Duke outrebounded Carolina 39-38 and made 17-20 from the foul line, to Carolina's 13-23.

"They outplayed us in the first half," Cook acknowledged. "We made some adjustments, we fought in the second half, made some shots, got some rebounds. We wanted to just make some plays."


Tyler Thornton scored nine points on a trio of 3-pointers, his highest point total in any ACC game this season. But he also battled UNC's much-larger Reggie Bullock for much of the game. Krzyzewski said that Thornton "would not let us lose. He had a terrific game."

Krzyzewski cited Duke's discipline for playing through foul trouble and toughness for playing through fatigue.

He also said that Duke still expected Ryan Kelly back this season but couldn't guarantee it. Still, no timetable.