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Heel Tough Blog: Duke Recap


Behind the best performance of Cormac Ryan’s UNC career, Carolina invaded a hostile Cameron Indoor Stadium, and beat the Blue Devils 84-79, to not only sweep their rivals in the regular season but secure the outright ACC title for the first time since 2017, the last time Carolina won the national championship. Ryan scored a season-high 31 points, making 8-12 of his shots, including 6-8 from behind the three-point line, to validate Hubert Davis’s decision to bring him via the transfer portal, after a season filled with offensive struggles. Harrison Ingram was the only other Tar Heel to score in double figures, putting together another double-double, scoring 14 points, and grabbing 10 rebounds. Carolina was able to win, despite Bacot and Davis scoring 9 points apiece, a sign of how good this team is, that they can win on the road in that environment when their best players don’t play well. Like in the first contest, Carolina’s offense was efficient, shooting 50% from the field, 47% from behind the arc, and converted on 15 of 18 three-pointers. 

In the first game, Carolina built a 10-point lead at the half and never looked back. Tonight? Carolina hit Duke with a 15-4 run out of the game, on their way to a 40-31 halftime lead, as they led wire to wire. As you can imagine, Duke responded with a 7-1 run to start the second half and eventually made it as close as 43-42, but they’d never take the lead. Kyle Filipowski may have scored 19 second-chance points, but after picking up his third foul early in the second half, Carolina was able to attack him, and got easy, uncontested looks at the rim, to keep the lead. 

In a season where top-10 teams have lost left and right on the road, Carolina finishes with an 8-2 road record in ACC play, and tonight’s win was easily the sweetest of them all. Armando Bacot and R.J. Davis have won three times in Durham, and if Davis were to return for his super senior season, he’d have a chance to tie the record, set by former Tar Heel, Tyler Hansbrough, who was a perfect 4-0 in Cameron Indoor Stadium. 

This game is always about the stars, but there is always an unsung hero that emerges, and while Cormac Ryan will be the talk of the town, Carolina’s bench was superb, outsourcing Duke’s bench 14-5, proving that they are the better team, up and down. Seth Trimble scored 6 points, and Jae’Lyn Withers added 6 points, along with 8 rebounds. 

After getting swept last season by Duke, Carolina returned the favor with a sweep of the Blue Devils, and now Hubert Davis is 4-3 against Duke, including 2-1 in Cameron Indoor Stadium, and 2-0 in Durham with Coach K in the building. Here’s what to take away from Carolina’s win, which secures an outright ACC title. 

  1. Cormac Ryan: Cormac Ryan arrived in Chapel Hill with a track record of being a knockdown shooter, and a great defender. The defensive part of his game translated from the moment he arrived at UNC, but his shooting has taken a long time to show up, shooting 37& from the field, and 32% from behind the arc. Tonight? He scored 31 points, made 8-12 shots, and was 6-8 from deep, to write his name in Carolina lore forever. Down the stretch it wasn’t Bacot or Davis making the winning plays, it was Cormac Ryan, who wasn’t going to allow his team to lose, with a regular season title on the line. 

  2. Rebounding: Carolina won the rebounding battle in Chapel Hill, and they won it again tonight, outrebounding Duke, 39-28. Ingram led the way with 10 rebounds, followed by the 9 rebounds from Armando Bacot, and then 8 from Withers. From the opening tip, every loose ball went to Carolina, and that carried over for 40 minutes. UNC grabbed 12 offensive rebounds and turned them into 12 second-chance points, outsourcing Duke 12-8 in that category. 

  3. Defended the Interior: After allowing 54 points in the paint, Carolina held Duke to 30 paint points, outsourcing them in that area 36-30. Carolina’s initial pressure on the perimeter made it harder for Duke’s guards to drive the lane, but when they did, great team defense made it harder for them to finish at the rim. 

  4. Team Offense: If you had told me that Carolina would’ve won despite Bacot and Davis scoring 9 points each, I probably wouldn’t have believed you, but that’s exactly what happened. Paced by Ryan’s 31, Carolina’s offense was just as efficient tonight, as it was in the first matchup, shooting 50% from the field, 47% from deep, and converting on 83% of their foul shots. Every player stepped up, which you love to see this time of year. Down the stretch, when Carolina shifted into their four-minute offense, they got timely buckets from Harrison Ingram, and a desperation two from Elliot Cadeau, helped Carolina make winning plays down the stretch.

  5. Fast Break Points: Carolina outscored Duke 19-6 in the fast break, and the majority came early in the game, on a barrage of three-pointers from Cormac Ryan. That helped them score without their defense being set and helped them build a lead they’d never relinquish. 

  6. Dominance Against Duke: Carolina is 9-0 against the Blue Devils, since 2005 when they face Duke in the regular season finale with something on the line for the ACC. What’s more impressive is that Carolina is 4-0 on the road, with wins in 2008, 2012, 2016, and now 2024. 

Up Next: Carolina is off to the ACC Tournament, where they will play on Thursday at noon, with the opponent not yet known.


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