Duke marched into the Smith Center and calmly — and cruelly — scored the game’s first 14 points, instilling in UNC a sense of a panic from which the Tar Heels never recovered. Whatever other analysis you read elsewhere, one team took the court prepared to compete and the other simply did not.
Carolina never made a serious run. The Tar Heels hobbled into the halftime break down 42-24, and they failed to generate any sustained momentum during the second frame, ultimately falling 68-53. Duke’s meager second half scoring performance occurred because the Devils opted to slow the tempo and limit the number of possessions Carolina would have to creep back into the game.
Duke accomplished all this while shooting only 33 percent on threes, nailing them early but going cold as the game progressed. The bigger story was that the Devils attempted only 15. Knowing UNC would aggressively switch screens to deny them perimeter looks, Duke spread the floor and isolated Carolina’s smaller lineup to create high percentage attempts for drivers and center Mason Plumlee.
The senior center hasn’t played as consistently during the second half of the season but enjoyed a prime performance last night. He tallied 23 points and 13 rebounds while shooting 10-for-15 from the floor. Another senior, Seth Curry, contributed his most devastating blows early and scored 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting.
For the game, Duke shot 55 percent to Carolina’s 34 percent. That’s not an accident: Duke’s offense harmoniously created open shots, while the Devils’ defense simultaneously harassed UNC’s shooters into contested and increasingly desperate attempts.
Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston, so good the past six weeks, combined to shoot only 8-for-21 and 1-for-10 on threes. In fact, Hairston’s meaningless second half triple constituted UNC’s only made three of the game (1-for-14 overall).
If you’re a Carolina fan, here’s the relevant question: Do you want to play these guys again?
After a surprisingly tight Duke victory in Durham, the Blue Devils figured out Carolina better than Carolina figured out the Blue Devils. Given that the guys wearing royal blue enjoy a more talented, experienced and balanced roster, a third outing likely will result in another Duke win.
And it could happen next Saturday. The two teams enter the ACC Tournament as the second and third seeds (Duke is No. 2), and if they win their Friday quarterfinal games they’ll meet on Saturday afternoon. From there, it’s on to the NCAA Tournament.
Click here for the UNC/Duke box score.