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Duke Stifles UNC, 63-57

Hubert Davis is hearing it from UNC fans - again

North Carolina v Duke
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - FEBRUARY 04: Dereck Lively II #1 of the Duke Blue Devils blocks a shot by Armando Bacot #5 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 04, 2023 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 63-57.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Saturday’s Duke-UNC game wasn’t quite a classic, but it was intense, hard-fought, and Duke came out on top 63-57. So maybe not a classic, but a good game? You betcha it was a good game.

As we’ve seen so often between these two, one team came out and shot ahead on emotion while the other then caught up.

This time it was UNC that got out to a fast start, shooting out to a 7-2 lead before Duke got going.

The first half was kind of hit-and-miss on both sides, and by hit-and-miss we mean baskets. Both teams shot poorly. But there were some good things happening.

First, and this had worried us, but Dereck Lively held his own against Armando Bacot and picked up just one foul in the first. He didn’t fall into the trap of banging with Bacot, though he did push and shove just as Bacot did. Instead, he loomed over him. Generally speaking, when Bacot went up, Lively’s hands were already there. He ended up with eight blocks, which we hear is a Duke record for a UNC game. Bacot also got just four offensive rebounds and 10 overall. That’s a good night for a lot of guys, but Bacot is capable of 18-20 boards a night. Lively was great Saturday evening, He also matched Bacot on the boards with 14 total and almost matched on the offensive end with three.

But it wasn’t just him. Kyle Filipowski mostly defended Pete Nance and Nance was just 1-10 from the floor. RJ Davis was 5-16. Caleb Love was 5-15 including a couple of his patented dumb shots that made no sense. Leaky Black, of all people, shot .500 at 5-10 including 3-6 three pointers.

Puff Johnson is playing again and looked fluid but shot just 1-4. Jalen Washington got in and hit 1-2 but remember he’s still getting over a knee injury suffered last year in high school. He looked great on that shot. Keep an eye on him.

Not that Duke shot a whole lot better. UNC hit 34.3 percent while Duke managed just 39.3. Jeremy Roach was 8-20 for 20 points. UNC did a solid job on Filipowski, holding him to 4-14 for 14 points, along with seven boards. Tyrese Proctor was aggressive but hit just 5-13.

It wasn’t about shooting or offense though.

This game, as it so often is, was more about heart. For instance, Duke had twice as many turnovers at 14-7, yet outscored UNC in transition 16-0. UNC is a program that historically has always been great in transition. But zero points? That’s kind of amazing.

There was a long stretch from 3:46 to 1:45 where Duke simply couldn’t get a basket. Roach missed a layup. Proctor had a turnover. Filipowski missed the front end of a one-and-one and then a shot. Then Roach missed a shot before Lively put it back in.

But look at UNC’s end during that stretch: Nance missed a three. Love had a turnover. Nance fouled. Proctor made a very tough block on RJ Davis under the basket.

And getting past the aforementioned time frame, Black missed a three with 1:08 left that would have put UNC up 60-59.

And that set up Jeremy Roach for a confounding bit of heroism.

We don’t know exactly how it happened, but with :21 left, the lane opened up for Roach like the Red Sea for Moses and he got an easy layup.

After that, Duke had fouls to give and burned to to burn clock. Nance missed another three point attempt with :14 left and when Roach got the rebound, Bacot fouled him. Roach converted both to give Duke its final 63-57 lead.

This would be a good point to mention that hard defense on both ends helped make for a poor shooting night. UNC did a great job of shutting down the lane and forcing Duke to shoot away from the basket. And Duke did a tremendous job on UNC, starting with Lively’s superb defense on Bacot. He’s so used to bulling through people that he didn’t know what to do with someone as long as Lively, and when he couldn’t bully him, he had to shoot over him. And as UNC found out Saturday evening, it’s not easy to shoot over Lively.

In the end though, this was a contest of wills and Duke’s was stronger. And we probably don’t have to tell you that it was great to see Duke close out a game with such resolve. This team is learning and growing up fast. And remember, they did this without Dariq Whitehead, who is still sidelined.

When the game was over, well, it’s been a while since we’ve seen such an excited bunch of Blue Devils. When Duke does the traditional high-fiving of the Crazies, usually it’s kind of tepid.

Well, not this time.

Duke sprinted through that ritual and off the court to celebrate more in the locker room. And it was well-deserved.