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Heel Tough Blog: Duke Recap

In the 254th edition of the greatest rivalry in college basketball, Duke-Carolina delivered another classic, as UNC went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and won 91-87. Despite neither team being ranked for the first time since 1960, and neither team being locks to make the NCAA Tournament, the rivalry that always delivers, delivered once more. Caleb Love delivered his best performance as a Tar Heel to date, scoring a career best 25 points, on 9-15 shooting, to go along with 7 assists. Overall all 5 of Carolina’s starters scored in double figures, and Day’Ron Sharpe added 11 off the bench. After scoring a season low 50 points at Clemson on Tuesday night, their 91 points are the most they’ve scored this season. After scoring just 1 point at Clemson, Armando Bacot responded with 16 points and 6 rebounds, as Carolina’s size was once again the difference for the Tar Heels.

For the 8th time in the last 9 trips to Durham, Carolina built a double-digit lead in what is usually a crazed environment. With the win, UNC is now 4-4 in the games where they’ve built big leads. While Carolina led 41-39 at the break, Duke was out-rebounding UNC, 18-16. To counter the size of the Tar Heels, Coach K turned to Mark Williams, Jaemyn Brakefield and Henry Coleman to give the Blue Devils a chance to compete on the backboards. That trend didn’t continue in the second stanza, as UNC out-rebounded Duke, 22-13 in the second half to power themselves to the win.

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There were no fans in the stands, there were no rankings beside the team’s names, and there weren't any ACC implications on the line, yet it felt like Duke-Carolina. Both teams shot the ball very well, as UNC was 53.1% for the game, and Duke was 53.7% despite losing. If anyone needs reminding, despite all the weirdness that has been brought upon us due to COVID, this is still the best rivalry in all of sports.

Carolina has now won 7 of their last 9, and sit at 7-4 in the ACC. While this win won’t improve their NCAA Tournament resume drastically, make no mistake this was a big win for a young team still finding out who they are. Here’s what to take away from a massive, emotional win in Durham:

  1. Caleb Love Shines: It was going to be hard to win, if Love didn’t play at a high level. His 25 points are the second most by a Tar Heel freshman against Duke, since Tyler Hansbrough scored 27 back in 2007. He was aggressive attacking the basket in transition, taking and making the 3, and even though he had 5 turnovers, he ran the offense as good as he has all season long. The challenge will be to build off this performance on Monday against Miami, but in the meantime we can celebrate his big time game.

  2. Balanced Scoring: Carolina put 6 players in double figures scoring for the first time since the 2018-19 season against Tennessee Tech. When Roy Williams’ teams are at their best, it’s when they have multiple guys on the floor that can score the basketball. I’m not saying to expect this type of offensive production moving forward, but they’ve shown they are capable of playing offensive basketball at a high level in this conference.

  3. Fast Break Points: The 27 points in the fast break are the most they’ve had all season long, and they needed everyone of them. Those easy points in the open floor helped negate a poor performance at the foul line, as UNC was just 13-22 from the charity stripe. Caleb Love looked like a natural Carolina floor general in transition, which is a good sign for this team moving forward.

  4. Matthew Hurt Didn’t Hurt You: Hurt led Duke in scoring entering tonight’s game, at 18.8 points per game. UNC got him into early foul trouble, and Hurt was scoreless in the first half. He scored 7 points in the second half, before eventually fouling out of the game. Even though Duke had their fair share of players step up, not allowing Hurt to control the game, was a big reason Carolina won tonight.

  5. Turnovers: Carolina turned it over 16 times, but it’s what they did defensively against Duke. UNC forced 15 Duke turnovers, 9 of which happened in the first stanza. Of those 9 turnovers, UNC turned those into 21 points. A lot like the points in transition, if this can become a constant theme, scoring points off turnovers, this team is poised to take the next step.

Up Next: it’s a quick turnaround for the Tar Heels, as they’ll be back home on Monday to take on Miami. That game will tip-off at 7 on ESPN.

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