For all the talk entering tonight’s game about how the rivalry has changed, and it’ll never be the same, was just that, “talk”, as Duke and Carolina produced another classic in the best rivalry in sports, although the result wasn’t the desired one, as Duke took down UNC 63-57. This game usually features high level offense, but tonight it was the defenses that controlled the game, as both teams shot under 40% from the field. Duke led at halftime, 33-32, with 16 of their points coming off of points in transition, as Carolina’s shot selection was once again questionable. In the second half, despite scoring only four points in the first six points, Carolina eventually took a 45-44 lead. They just could never find a consistent rhythm on that end of the floor, and Duke got timely shots from Jeremy Roach, and Kyle Filipowski, combined with stellar rim protection from Dereck Lively II, to eventually pull out the win.
Four of Carolina’s five starters scored double figures, led by Armando Bacot’s 14 points, and 10 rebounds. Additionally, Leaky Black (13), Caleb Love (12), and R.J. Davis (11), all reached the double-figure plateau. Meanwhile, Pete Nance scored just 2 points, on 1-10 shooting, and at times looked completely overwhelmed not only by the physicality but by the emotion that goes into a rivalry game like this one. Hubert Davis has implored Nance to be more aggressive on the offensive end of the floor, but after the last couple of games, that needs to be brought into question. Puff Johnson played 16 minutes, scored 3 points, and had more of an impact on the game than Nance. Even with Puff’s inability to stay healthy at times, Hubert needs to be honest with himself, and realize the team looks better with Nance off the floor, for the younger Johnson.
After UNC won the matchup in the Final Four last April, all we were told was that the rivalry was never going to be the same and that it was no longer the best rivalry in the sport. For those that thought that tonight was a reminder that this rivalry will always be there, and is always ready to write a new chapter. It helps that both schools are coached by former players, that have produced both blood and sweat in the rivalry, and that was evident tonight, as Hubert Davis was as animated as he’s ever been, since taking over for the retired Roy Williams.
Tonight’s result is disappointing for many different reasons. Of course, you want to win the biggest game of the season so far, but the loss puts Carolina squarely on the bubble. The Tar Heels are now 15-8 on the season, and just 7-5 in the ACC, 3 games behind a Clemson that visits Chapel Hill next Saturday, as Hubert Davis will continue to seek to find the winning formula that had the program on the doorstep of the national championship last season.
Shot Selection: Something that has troubled this team all season long, has been the shot selection, mainly by the guards, and it was once again a problem tonight. Carolina’s decision to settle for perimeter shots led to easy run outs for Duke the other way, as 16 of their 33 first-half points, came in transition. It was much better in the second half, as Duke only scored 4 points in transition, but the damage was done in the first half, as it allowed Duke to not only stay in the game but take the lead at the half. Armando Bacot took 12 shots, which was the third most on the team, and it simply wasn’t enough. Meanwhile, UNC hoisted up another 27 three-pointers, making only 7, for 26% shooting from deep.
Rebounding: The most important part of the game of basketball, outside of shot making, is rebounding, and Carolina failed to meet the challenge tonight, as Duke won the rebounding margin 46-40, despite UNC having 14 offensive rebounds, compared to just 13 for the Blue Devils. In the closing moments of the game, it felt like Duke got every loose ball, and every offensive rebound they needed to win the game. Both Bacot and Leaky Black posted double-digit rebounding numbers, but it wasn’t enough.
Points in the Paint: Another issue tonight was the inability to keep Jeremy Roach and Tyrese Proctor out of the lane, as Duke scored 32 points in the paint, compared to just 24 for Carolina. When Carolina has lost this season, a big reason why was that they failed to keep the opponent out of the paint, and that was a theme once again tonight.
Free Throws: Carolina entered the game making the fourth most free throws per game, and shooting the fifth most, yet tonight they were 2-3 from the foul line. Many Tar Heel fans are going to blame the officiating, but the blame first needs to go to the lack of aggression in attacking the rim. While there were some missed calls as there are in every game, Duke was rewarded for attacking the rim, and that’s why they shot more fouls than UNC. After living at the line against NC State, for some reason that hasn’t been more of the recipe, and it needs to be to help make up for some inefficient offense.
Blocks: Dereck Lively II entered the season as the #1 incoming freshman in college basketball, and looked every bit the part tonight, as he controlled the game on the defensive end, as he registered the most blocks by a Duke player in a UNC game.
Up Next: It doesn’t get any easier for Carolina, but the game is just as important, as UNC travels to Wake Forest on Tuesday night, with the tip scheduled at 7 PM, on ESPN.