It was a tale of two . . . .
No, I’m not going to go there.
I avoid clichés like the plague.
Let’s just say North Carolina was a lot better than Duke in the first half Saturday night, Duke was a lot, lot better than the Tar Heels in the second half.
That extra “lot” was worth ten points evidently, as Duke mounted a second-half comeback worthy of college basketball’s top rivalry, defeating North Carolina 74-64.
The win moved Duke to 25-6 overall, 13-5 in the ACC, second seed in next week’s ACC Tournament.
The Tar Heels drop to 22-9, 11-7 and will be the sixth seed next week.
To say it wasn’t easy is an understatement. Duke-Carolina is always a pressure cooker and even more so when it’s Senior Day. Grayson Allen is Duke’s only senior, but Mike Krzyzewski acknowledged that he met with some of the—he didn’t name who-freshmen and told them to treat this like their Senior Day, absent the ceremonies.
Duke played tight early and Carolina wasn’t much better for about for about 15 minutes. If you like the sound of clanking iron, this was your kind of half.
But the Tar Heels surged late, an 11-2 run over the final 5:30, taking a 35-25 lead into the locker room.
Duke’s first-half offensive woes were across the board; 1-10 on 3-pointers, 4-14 from the line—one of the misses the first end of the bonus-, minus seven on the boards, and only three assists. Wendell Carter, Jr. scored the game’s first two points and went scoreless the rest of the half. Marvin Bagley III scored three points.
“Their defense was good,” Mike Krzyzewski said of the first half. “But we helped them tremendously. We didn’t move the ball. You could see that each kid was trying to do something on their own. They aren’t selfish but they’re young. They’re just young.”
But Krzyzewski noted that Duke’s defense was pretty good and kept them in the game.
Krzyzewski said his halftime message was “take the pianos off your back. Take the pressure off. Play with a smile on your face. I’m not going to call any plays. Everybody touch the ball. If you see a play to be made, then make the play. Get comfortable.”
Trevon Duval came off the bench and had two points and three missed free throws in the first half.
He wasn’t playing with a smile on his face.
“Our focus was to just play basketball the second half,” Duval said. “Coach told us to just play and whenever I can play free and have fun and find guys that are open, that’s when I’m at my best.”
Duval keyed the comeback.
Pianos removed notwithstanding, Duke treaded water early in the second half, falling behind 42-29 on a Cameron Johnson 3-pointer and 44-33 on a Kenny Williams jumper.
Allen admitted that he was a little worried.
Wendell Carter hit a couple of foul shots and Duke got a stop. Carter rebounded a Grayson Allen miss and Duval stared down an open 3.
“That’s a shot I’m confident in,” Duval said, “and so are my guys. That’s why they threw me the ball. I shot it with confidence.”
If you had Duval for the 3 as the turning point, collect the office-pool money.
Allen said seeing the ball go in, energized Duke’s offense.
“We were making some baskets, but they were extending with a 3 and throwing some daggers at us. But then Tre hit that 3 and that was huge for us.”
Allen hit his first 3 shortly after and it was 46-41.
On the other end, Roy Williams said his team started standing around. He said he liked the shots he team took early in the second half, not so much later.
And Bagley woke up.
“Marvin went nuts for a while and put us on his back,” Krzyzewski said. “He got angry. He refused to lose.”
Bagley had a 3-pointer, an old-fashioned three-point play and a slam-dunk stick-back in a span of 2:05, sandwiched around a Gary Trent, Jr. 3-pointer.
Suddenly Duke was ahead, 52-50, 54-52, 57-55 on another Trent bomb.
Carolina took their final lead at 58-57 and it was last tied at 60, with 6:32 left.
Duval took over, hitting a jumper, assisting on a Trent 3-pointer and a Bagley dunk, then a Carter 3-pointer, the later making it 70-62.
“Duval hasn’t been a great 3-point-shooter,” Williams said. “But he makes a 3 and one of our best shooters (Cameron Johnson) misses a 3 and Bagley hits a 3 and it just snowballed. It seemed like they made every play they had to make. They got dribble penetration. He [Duval] really hurt us driving the ball to the basket. Twice in a row he beat us, and we came to him and he dropped it off for a dunk.”
Krzyzewski said Duval had his best half of the season.
Duke closed well, holding the Tar Heels scoreless for the final 3:18, ending the game on a 17-6 run.
Krzyzewski reminded the media that Duke has been playing defense as well as any team not named Virginia. He also said that Duke is still figuring some stuff out.
“When you play zone, you have fewer possessions. You have to figure out how to do something with tempo in it, like we did tonight. We extended the defense and I thought that helped us in the second half. If you take out the first three conference games, we’ve played defense as well as anyone.”
Bagley led everyone with 21 points and 15 rebounds after that three-point opening stanza.
Allen and Trent added 15 and 13 respectively, with Carter adding nine points and nine rebounds before fouling out.
But Duval’s six second-half assists, without a turnover were keys to the comeback. Duval added seven points, two steals, even a block.
Duke hit 8-15 on 3s in the second half, while outrebounding Carolina 24-13, 46-42 for the game. The Tar Heels made 8-31 on 3s for the contest and got to the foul line only five times, making four. Williams said Duke was the more aggressive team and that stat confirms his diagnosis.
Joel Berry II scored only six points, missing all seven of his 3-point shots. Johnson led Carolina with 16 points, followed by Luke Maye (13), Kenny Williams (13) and Theo Pinson (12).
Roy Williams had some nice things to say about Allen after the game, saying that Allen deserved to go out happy.
Allen talked about the pressures of Senior Day, saying he cried three or four times today, couldn’t sleep last night and tried to meditate, all without success.
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