Just three days after the Duke-authored collapse that will live in infamy — and eternally on ESPN — Carolina hosted Virginia and failed to open the competition with its customary joy. (When John Henson is bummed, you know something is wrong.)
But the Heels persevered through a turbulent first half and raced past the Cavaliers in the second, simply overwhelming one of the most plodding clubs in all of college basketball. Carolina didn’t falter during the closing minutes this time and expanded the lead to cement a 70-52 victory.
Tyler Zeller, whose missed free throws and defensive blunders contributed to the Duke catastrophe, demonstrated senior poise by tossing in 25 points on 9-for-16 shooting. He added nine rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block, making him by far the most productive Tar Heel on the day.
Apart from Zeller, Carolina shot just 15-for-52 from the field. Thus, credit belongs to both Zeller and the team’s defense and rebounding — the Heels hammered UVa 52-32 on the glass — for winning comfortably despite atrocious shooting overall.
In fact, UNC connected on just one three-pointer and has made 2-for-16 in the past two games. Very few teams realistically can endeavor toward a national championship without hitting from long-range, and the marksmanship issue ranks foremost among Carolina’s limiting factors based upon recent results.
You may have heard there was a Duke-UNC basketball game in Chapel Hill. That one came down to a buzzer-beater. There was one in Durham, too, on Monday. There was no need to beat the buzzer in that one, as the Duke women hammered Sylvia Hatchell's Tar Heels 96-56. Mike Potter gives us the lay of the land, the high ground of which we're sure is in Durham these days.
Neil Morris and Mike Potter take distinct views on the appalling (or just appallingly unimaginative) realigning of NC State out of the ACC spotlight. (Now they know how all those soon-to-be-retired state Democratic politicians feel.)
Rob Harrington was on hand in Chapel Hill Wednesday night. He saw a dangerously inflexible, lumbering team.
Adam Sobsey, who writes more words than Tolstoy, watched the game on his television and sent us his rolls of parchment.
(Sobsey, by the way, is shipping some of his words to Baseball Prospectus these days. It's a pay site, but allow yourself to be teased out of your money when you click over to his piece on the Durham Bulls of his salad days. But not before you read what we have to say below.)
REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH It’s not uncommon for high-level college basketball teams to schedule a “firewall” game in February, an all-but-guaranteed win over a lesser visiting team just in case there’s a need to end a losing streak.
N.C. State’s is tonight.
The Lancers will join three other Western Virginia schools in the Big South next season.
Duke alumna Wanisha Smith is a Longwood assistant coach.
Common wisdom might say the Wolfpack needs six wins to earn an at-large NCAA bid, and State has six games left in the regular season. Two victories would likely assure a WNIT berth.
State will play tonight without leading scorer Marissa Kastanek, who is nursing a foot injury. She’s expected back for the sold-out “Hoops 4 Hope” game against Wake Forest on Sunday.
It doesn’t matter.
State never trails, scoring the first eight points and leading by 21 at halftime en route to a 74-45 victory.
Well, not until last night. Capping a legendary comeback that revived his team from a 10-point deficit with under three minutes to play, Austin Rivers swished a three-pointer as time expired to vaporize the Smith Center crowd and give Duke what likely will be remembered as its best win in the rivalry’s history.
How did this happen?
Because I’m on the UNC beat, I’ll tackle this question from the perspective of what went wrong for the Tar Heels. First, a look at the box score reveals Carolina advantages across multiple categories: field goal percentage, free throws and free throw percentage, rebounds, assists, turnovers and blocks.
Given all that and considering that the Heels were defending their home turf against an opponent that already has lost two games at Cameron this season, again — how could this happen?
Most fans and media understandably are pointing to Carolina’s inability to execute during the final minutes, as well as crediting (sometimes grudgingly) Duke’s poise and hot shooting. It was like downloading a highly desired, rare movie and getting the spinning wheel of death with only three percent remaining.
But the fact that the game was competitive at all late speaks to the larger problem: Duke simply crushed UNC from the three-point line. The Blue Devils shot 14-for-36 on threes, a remarkable number of attempts given that Carolina knew what Duke would attempt to accomplish offensively.
Even at his young age, Agbossoumonde has already enjoyed and endured enough experiences to fill a lifetime. From fleeing his war-torn native Togo, where his father died when Agbossoumonde was only 7, to settling in upstate New York with his mother and seven siblings (his oldest sister still lives in Africa) to a still-nascent professional soccer career that is already the stuff of lore, the man nicknamed “Boss” has garnered a cult status in the American soccer landscape.
My meeting with Gale Agbossoumonde (pronounced ga-LAY ag-BOOS-ooh-mon-day) comes on the advent of the latest chapter in his professional odyssey. Two days before interviewing him at WakeMed Soccer Park, Agbossoumonde arrived in Cary to begin a season-long loan to the Carolina RailHawks.
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM It’s yet another installment in the Battle of the Blues, meaning there’s going to be a near-sellout crowd tonight.
Duke (18-3, 9-0 ACC) comes in ranked No. 5 in the nation, hoping to keep alive a chance for the No. 1 seed in the Raleigh Regional. No. 22 UNC (17-5, 7-2) still has an outside chance for the ACC regular-season title if the Tar Heels can claim an upset tonight. Carolina has been walking a tightrope to stay in the Top 25 for six weeks, and saved it again with a 64-56 home-court win over Virginia Friday night.
Both teams are strongest at the center position, where UNC Chay Shegog is cementing her case for first-team All-ACC and the Blue Devils’ freshman Elizabeth Williams is a lock for rookie of the year.
This time the night belongs to Duke, which takes control after the opening minutes and rolls to a 96-56 rout in front of 8,595.
“No,” intoned Coach K, when asked if he knew why Duke lacked energy for the first 20 minutes, and let the silence sit for five long seconds.
“I don’t have an explanation,” explained Ryan Kelly.
“Weak,” said Austin Rivers.
“Some of basketball, a lot of it, just comes from effort,” offered Miami head coach Jim Larranaga.
Down 28-42 after a miserable half, Duke made an effort. After symbolically coming off the bench again, Seth Curry, in one of his best performances as a Blue Devil, might have thought he was back at Liberty University, slashing to the basket and hitting threes, pull-up jumpers and drives on his way to a team-high 22 points in 39 minutes, with four assists, three steals and no turnovers on the side. With the unusually ineffective Mason on the bench, Miles Plumlee poked balls away from the dangerous Mr. Johnson. Rivers rebounded, early and often, coast-to-coasting twice. Quinn Cook pounded his chest and asserted himself on defense, including a forced air-ball from Malcolm Grant after a Miami timeout, with 3:02 left in the game and Duke down by one point, whereupon the home crowd stood up as one body and filled Cameron Indoor Stadium with the feeling of a destiny and a game about to be won.
Everyone—Duke, Miami, the fans, the media—had been waiting for this moment all night, perhaps all season, and for some of the youngest in the crowd, maybe their whole lives. Because the crowd seemed back, after weeks of scolding in the media for lack of volume and verve. Body painted students lined the rows, shaking off some early-game complaints about sore hands and throats unused to weaponized cheering. Miami’s huddle faced some semblance of a shout-down during timeouts. A cameraman nodded in satisfaction. Chants of “please don’t eat me” sailed out towards fat players, and refs were urged to seek alternative professions and consult specialty doctors. Cameron seemed loud again, and Miami had never won here, and it was going to stay that way.
After all, Duke wins these games, at home, despite difficult makes by Johnson over the outstretched hands of Miles, despite a miss at the line by Rivers that might have put Duke up by one, despite miserable first halves. Duke had to win after Miami couldn’t get a shot off and the game went into overtime, with their best three-point shooter fouled out, and the Blue Devils guards about to drive with total ferocity and earn six free throws in the extra period, two by Curry (89 percent), two by Cook (81 percent), two by Rivers (68 percent)?
Zero for six. Lose by four. “You can’t cheat the game,” Krzyzewski zenned. He was pissed off after this one, like a dad that raised 31 children and somehow ended up with a 32nd who didn’t look like any of the others, or him, or the mom, and wrecked the car again and again despite getting straight As and remembering everyone’s birthday. “You got to play that way all the time, and then I think free throws go in at the end. At least most often than not.”
And today the Wolfpack women’s team will continue it.
It’s undoubtedly a big one, as the Wolfpack (14-9, 4-6) will take on Virginia (16-7, 4-6) for sole possession of seventh place in the ACC.
The Cavaliers are coached by Duke alumna Joanne Boyle, and have been in town for the weekend after losing a tough battle at No. 23 UNC 64-56 on Friday night.
Five ACC teams — Duke, Miami, Maryland, UNC and Georgia Tech in that order — are fairly certain to get NCAA bids. And there will probably be one more spot coming from among the Wahoos, Wolfpack and Florida State.
The Wolfpack likely needs six wins to get it, and would have to beat every unranked team on the schedule and get one significant upset to get over the hurdle. That makes this one a “must” win.
And it’s Virginia that gets it, leading almost the whole way in a 55-47 victory.
The Terrapins have handed the Heels disappointment and devastation in the past decade, particularly in College Park. The national champion 2009 Tar Heels weren’t able to defeat Maryland there (admittedly, a better version), and thus this year’s Heels definitely accomplished something meaningful prior to Duke.
Carolina again struggled to find the mark offensively. The Heels shot 44 percent for the game, finally raising their percentage down the stretch after absorbing the Terps’ haymakers all day. Tyler Zeller is beginning to separate himself from everyone else on the club, piling up another 22 points (7-for-12 field goals), seven rebounds and two blocks.
Kendall Marshall played horribly early but regained his poise and in the decisive minutes delivered beautiful passes to maximize each UNC possession. He tallied a monstrous 16 assists, and most of his six turnovers occurred early.
John Henson didn’t earn himself any fans by dunking the ball in the closing seconds, but he deserves credit for continuing to work hard against aggressive Maryland defense. He contributed 17 points and 12 rebounds in 36 grueling minutes.
In fact, Roy Williams essentially voted no confidence in his bench. Marshall played 38 minutes while Harrison Barnes logged 35 and Reggie Bullock 34. Carolina’s once-impressive depth has been worn to the nub due to season-ending injuries suffered by Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland.
Barnes’ sprained ankle also has begun to toll ominously. He twisted it against Wake Forest and aggravated the injury against the Terps — how healthy will he be when the Devils stroll into the Smith Center? After the game he compared the pain to getting shot, obviously not a promising sign going forward.
Instead, my takeaway will be something far more mundane and perplexing. In a world where “coach-speak” and “player-speak” are the order of the day, the postgame press conference performance by Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik was an exercise in existentialism. There was no ranting or raving, no wild-eyed lunacy and no pronounced expressions of madness. Just a slowly simmering attempt to find meaning in athletic existence in the wake of losing one of the few conference games this year that the Wake gaffer thought was there for the taking. I’ve titled it “The Ballad of Bzdelik.”