The last time Duke took on the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, then Blue Devil Austin Rivers shocked the Dean Smith Center crowd with a cold blooded three-pointer to give Duke a one point win. Needless to say, that shot was on everyone’s mind Thursday night, and the expression on the UNC fans’ faces were much different this go-around.
The suspense building up towards the latest installment of the historic rivalry between cross-town rivals of Duke and UNC was intensified due to the weather delay caused by the “Polar Vortex,” and it showed in a big way as the Tar Heel fans were doing their best Cameron Crazies impression. The Heels took advantage of that incredible home-court advantage along with their seven game win-streak to down the Blue Devils 74-66.
Both teams came out of the gate sloppy, turning the ball over and giving up offensive rebounds. It appeared as if the team who could clean up their act sooner would be the victor. As we later learned, this would not be the case.
Marshall Plumlee was the spark that the Blue Devils were looking for in the first half coming off the bench and he did all of the little things right to get Duke out of its funk. Freshman Jabari Parker later flexed his young muscles, registering 10 points before the break and was a huge reason they held a seven-point lead at halftime.
Roy Williams, who has admitted to this being one of the toughest teams he has had the pleasure of coaching, drew up a game-plan at halftime that his streaking squad worked to perfection. North Carolina held Duke to 36 percent shooting in the second half and held Parker to just seven second half points while also getting him into late foul trouble. The Tar Heels also closed out on three-point shooters very well, holding Duke to just 5-22 shooting from beyond the arc for the game.
Duke outscored North Carolina 18-3 in points off turnovers in the first half. After the intermission, the Blue Devils failed to score a single point off a turnover. Williams’ squad also rebounded to perfection in the game, beating out the Blue Devils 43-30, another huge reason that Duke struggled to get anything going in the second half. The Tar Heels also got their offense rolling in the second half. Sophomore Marcus Paige scored all of his 13 points in the second half. Senior Leslie McDonald led North Carolina with his game-high 21 points.
Despite having lost seven of their last nine head-to-head matchups against No. 5 Duke, the unranked Tar Heels seemed unintimidated by the Blue Devils. This has been a common theme for UNC throughout the year. Impressive wins against Michigan State, Kentucky, Louisville and now Duke; they also have three wins against top-five teams this season. In fact, in these wins, Paige, who is notorious for second half scoring bursts, has scored 63 second half points as opposed to his lowly 18 first half points, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
So what does this mean for Duke going forward? Well, it sure does not get any easier for them. Although three of their final four games are at home, one of them is a daunting task against the Orange of Syracuse and another is a rematch against North Carolina, who is now riding a huge high. Not to be overlooked is a potential trap-game on the road against Wake Forest.
North Carolina, on the other hand, is riding an eight game win streak and face opponents over the next three games with a combined record of 39-39. Coach Williams has the Heels in perfect position to make a run in the ACC tournament and perhaps even the big dance. The only downside to this win for UNC is that they can no longer fly under the radar. If it were not for a few bad losses earlier in the year, UNC would be a top-20 team right now. So what’s the biggest takeaway from Thursday night’s clash between Duke and UNC? As much as the ACC has changed over the past year, some things will never change. Oh, and I almost forgot; someone should tell the “Cameron Crazies” to stay off the court after Duke beats UNC on March 8.