Duke’s win over UNC was notable in several ways but we’d like to make one small point: after the loss in Durham we said we thought that if Zion OMG Williamson had played, you could probably take 15 points from Luke Maye, give them to Williamson, and have about a one point game.
That worked out about right except that Williamson ended up with 31.
As we’ve seen so often in the Duke-UNC rivalry, one team races out to an early lead then the other battles back which happened again. UNC had a 13 point lead before Duke cut it back down.
After that the game was very tight. Duke had some issues though.
Cam Reddish did not play well. Neither did Jack White or Alex O’ Connell, who combined for nine minutes, no points and no rebounds.
So Coach K turned to Antonio Vrankovic and Jordan Goldwire and the deep reserves came through brilliantly.
It was pretty clear early in his career that Vrankovic was never going to have quick feet. He just doesn't and that’s that.
However, it was also clear that he has excellent hands and a good feel for the game and we felt like that at some point he would contribute.
That point came in this game. Vrankovic played 10 minutes and was a huge asset. He had two assists, two points and a block. It was, without a doubt, his finest play at Duke.
But how about Goldwire? Earlier in the year Duke fans, so called, were deriding him.
Well not anymore.
Coach K credited Goldwire for significantly slowing UNC’s potent fast break. He’s starting to play with a lot of poise now which is great.
A lot of this game was erratic with both teams (but mostly Duke) making some poor choices and tossing the ball away way too much.
Free throw shooting was again erratic, with Duke hitting just 7-13, including RJ Barrett missing two with just seconds left and the Blue Devils up 74-73.
That set up a really interesting ending and White and Nassir Little both played big parts.
Prior to that, Little, who had talked recently about how he was kind of tired of hearing about Duke’s freshmen, drove to the basket with 2:06 left only to encounter Williamson, who may have gotten a fingertip on his shot.
Then with less than a minute to go, White had driven to the basket and lost control of the ball. Little picked it up and dunked it with 48.1 left.
Then Duke called a timeout and got the ball to Williamson, who was guarded by Little. He drove the lane, spun, and attempted a shot which rimmed out. As he went after the rebound, Little stumbled back a bit and Williamson got the go-ahead tip-in with 30.3 left.
Cam Johnson missed a three - the one he said he’d have bet $1,000 would go in - and Barrett grabbed the rebound and was fouled by Kenny Williams with 12.4 left.
Barrett missed both and Little rebounded the second miss and tossed the ball to Coby White. He didn’t get the ball up court as quickly as he usually does and when he did, he had limited options, especially Maye.
Because Williamson was all over Maye and Tre Jones was right in White’s grill too.
With 3.6 left, White is in trouble. He’s already planted and extended his leg and it’s clear that he’s not going to get a good shot. Cam Johnson is under the basket for some reason, guarded by Javin DeLaurier. With his face and body turned to the right, White can’t see Little calling for the ball - and he was really open.
There was also no one to block Little out either so he went hard after the rebound.
Duke had DeLaurier and Barrett under the basket and when Little went for the clutch tip-in, one of them - we think it was DeLaurier but on replay it looks more like Barrett - got his fingers on the ball and batted it off the backboard.
And so the victory was preserved, but just.
It was a satisfying if not always artistic win.
Saturday is going to be very challenging. Leonard Hamilton loves having really big guys on the inside and they don’t get much bigger than 7-4 Christ Koumadje.
Without Marques Bolden, Duke will have a tough time dealing with him. Staying out of foul trouble is going to be critical, especially for DeLaurier, and dealing with FSU’s depth won’t be easy.
But it’s a championship game and you don’t get to play in those very often. We’ll see how Duke’s young stars handle it.
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