North Carolina jumped to big leads at the beginning of each half Saturday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium and held off several furious Duke comebacks to take a 91-87 win back to Chapel Hill.
The win ended a three-game Duke winning streak in the rivalry and drops Duke to .500 on the season, 5-5 in the ACC, 7-7 overall.
“They knocked us back at the beginning of each half,” Mike Krzyzewski acknowledged. “And then we came back but not far enough. We kept fighting back . . . . so it was counter-punching the whole game, trying to get back and put some game pressure on them.”
The Tar Heels mined some familiar veins in putting together the win. The pounded the ball inside to their big men, outrebounded Duke 38-31 and scored 29 points in transition, many of them off of Duke’s 15 turnovers.
But they also shot the lights out, hitting 10-of-15 from beyond the arc. Freshman guard Caleb Love came into the game barely hitting 20 percent on 3s but knocked down 4 of 5, while doling out 7 assists. He was the game’s best player.
“I thought he stepped it up above all the others,” Krzyzewski said.
“They always run that same break,” Jordan Goldwire said. “Everybody knows it. They run the wings hard, the guards get it out, that’s just part of their offense and they hit some really tough shots.”
Duke got off to a horrible start, turning the ball over four times in the first 2:42.
Carolina led 17-7 barely five minutes into the game.
Duke clawed back despite getting little in the first half from either Matt Hurt (0 points) or Jalen Johnson (4). Joey Baker came off the bench and hit a pair of 3-pointers, the second of which gave Duke its biggest lead, at 35-32.
Baker had a season-high 11 points, hitting 3 of 7 from downtown, aggressively hunting his shot in ways we haven’t seen much this season.
“Just trusting my work,” Baker said. “There have been points in this season when I’ve been a little bit passive, not trusting in my work and all that type of stuff. So, get back to work tomorrow, Monday and keep on going.”
Duke couldn’t hold that brief lead. The Tar Heels closed the first half on a 9-4 run and took a 41-39 lead into intermission.
Still, Duke had to feel good at the half. They could have been blown out early but hung in there and delivered some blows of their own. And Hurt and Johnson had the play better. Right?
They did but only after Duke had once again fallen behind by double digits. Huge center Armando Bacot scored eight points early inside and even bigger Day’Ron Sharpe converted a 3-point play and it was 62-50.
Duke didn’t have the size to counter that.
“The physicality of the game—they’re huge,” Krzyzewski said. “When you have to guard those big guys, it wears you out.”
Mark Williams got the start and grabbed a Duke-best eight rebounds. But he only scored a single basket and frequently was overwhelmed by UNC’s size.
Hurt gave Duke seven-second half points, the last two tying the game at 77-77 after he, Johnson, Wendell Moore and Goldwire fueled a comeback.
But Hurt fouled out shortly after that, having played only 21 minutes.
Still, Duke’s smaller but quicker lineup forced some turnovers and seemed poised to pull off another Cameron miracle.
But one thing Duke couldn’t do was get to the foul line. Duke did not get into the bonus in the second half and shot only seven free throws on the night.
And missed the biggest one.
Duke trailed 88-83 when Moore scored inside and drew a foul. But he missed the freebie, which would have made it a 2-point game. Jalen Johnson blocked Garrison Brooks and Steward scored in transition. After Leaky Black made one foul shot, Duke had the ball down 2 with 15 seconds left.
But the Tar Heels had two fouls to give. They gave one, forcing Duke to in-bound with 13 seconds left. Moore got the ball, found a seam, drove to the basket. There was contact but the only whistle was for a travel on Moore.
Krzyzewski said the didn’t have a good look at the play.
“I think Wendell—I haven’t talked to him—but I think he was probably expecting a sixth [UNC team] foul . . . But taking it to the basket is the right thing to do. I feel bad for him because he was trying to make a winning play.”
The Tar Heels finished it out from the foul line.
Duke’s opponent simply made a few more plays down the stretch than did Duke, a trend that suggests Duke is close to putting it together if they don’t run out of time.
Or maybe Duke doesn’t have what it takes to win close ones.
I’ll go with glass half-full.
But it is February.
Krzyzewski said he can’t be worried about anything other than the next practice, the next game, just getting better.
“We’ve just got to keep playing. I don’t have a long-term goal. My goal is to get ready for Notre Dame [Tuesday]. . . we’ve just got to work hard and take it one game at a time. Our guys are improving, they’re working hard, they’re coming in early for extra work, they have great attitudes. They’re a young group. Tonight they were deserving to win. That’s all I ask of my teams.”
Duke played 10 players and got a solid performance from not only Baker but also freshman Henry Coleman, who gave Duke 4 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in 12 minutes, the only Duke big to match Carolina’s physicality.
Jeremy Roach led Duke with 16 points, followed by Moore (15), Johnson (14), Steward (11) and Baker. Five double-figure scorers and Hurt not among them.
Love led everyone with 25 points.
Duke had 23 assists on 36 made field goals, another area of improvement. Johnson and Roach had 5 each, Goldwire and Moore 4 each.
Williams got the start ahead of Johnson. Without mentioning any names Krzyzewski reminded everyone that starts are earned in practice.
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Player Of The Game vs. UNC
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