For the first time since 2015, Duke swept the regular season against Carolina, 89-76. It was the first time in 15 matchups that the Tar Heels failed to even lead against their rivals from Durham. We brag about this rivalry’s ability to always deliver, and at 55-54 there was a legitimate chance that it was going to give us another instant classic. Vernon Carey Jr and Tre Jones had other plans though. Vernon was the best player on the court tonight, recording 25 points and 10 rebounds. Garrison Brooks actually bested his numbers, with 26 points and 13 rebounds. The battle of the bigs was a flashback of the battles Carlos Boozer and Sean May once had. Ironically both were in the building, just serving different roles.
After a quick start, Carolina’s offense failed to find the rhythm it had in its last 3 games. They shot just 41% from the field, and only 33% from distance. They were able to grab 19 offensive rebounds, but didn’t make Duke pay enough for all the extra chances. As hard as it is, you have to give the Blue Devils a lot of credit for the job they did defensively. Their ability to put pressure on the ball early in the first half, was reminiscent of their pressure defense the program once prided itself on. Of the 29 made field goals, only 7 were assisted, to accurately put the pressure into context.
After results during the week, it was known that the team would have to win 5 games in 5 days, to qualify for the NCAA tournament. After three straight wins, there was belief that was a possibility. After a road loss in Cameron, there’s no reason for that belief to dissipate. Here’s what we can take away from tonight’s game:
Transition Defense: Too many times Duke simply beat Carolina down the floor. It didn’t matter if it was after a made basket or a missed basket, Duke and Vernon Carey in particular were running. Jay Bilas made the comment that Duke was beating UNC, at their own game and he wasn’t lying. It was disappointing to see the effort in that area of the game, and you can be assured it’ll be addressed before the start of the ACC Tournament.
Failed to Convert on Offensive Rebounds: 18 second chance points is usually a great number, but when you account you had 19 offensive rebounds it doesn’t look so great. When you grab that many missed shots, you’ve got to convert more often. That didn’t and it’s a big reason the result was what it was. They succeeded in getting to the boards, but failed to make the Blue Devils pay for the miscues.
Tre Jones Outplayed Cole Anthony: After finally settling into his role on this team, he looked like the player that we saw when he first returned from injury. Tre Jones was the star in Chapel Hill, and while he wasn’t as dominant tonight he outperformed Anthony. His pressure on the ball kept him out of the lane, and made him uncomfortable as a whole. You also have to credit Jones, who has performed at a high level in both games against Carolina, and has been rewarded by coming back to school. Maybe Anthony will realize that, and decide to return when the time comes to make that decision.
Up Next: It’s ACC tournament time, as Champ Week gets going next week. For the first time ever, UNC will have to play on Tuesday in this historic tournament. Their first opponent will be Virginia Tech, at 7:30. ACC Network has coverage of the Tuesday portion of the tournament.