On Senior Night inside the Smith Center, Carolina earned themselves a season sweep of their rival Duke, and in the process cemented their place in the NCAA Tournament. The visitors never once held a lead in tonight’s contest, as Carolina led by as much as 24, as their 91-73 victory is tied for the largest under Roy Williams. A lot like the first game, Carolina shot the ball as well as they have all season long, going 31-56 from the field, which is 55%. They also were hot from behind the arc, going 8-18, including 2 made triples from Garrison Brooks. As much as the Tar Heels offense impressed, it was their defense that set the tone, and made this game a rout. Duke may have scored 73 points, but they did so on only 41% shooting, and went just 5-27 from behind the three point line. Even though 4 of Duke’s starters reached double figures, not one member of their team was ever in any sort of offensive rhythm, as the intensity from Carolina permeated for 40 minutes.
This win gives Carolina their second regular season sweep of Duke in the last 3 seasons, avenging last season's sweep to the Blue Devils. It also extended a record for the Tar Heels as they’ve swept a regular season series against an ACC opponent every year since the league was formed in 1953. Roy Williams is now 18-22 against Duke, and has recorded 4 regular season sweeps against the team from Durham (2007,2009,2019, and now 2021)
This college basketball season has been very far from “normal” as the team navigated playing through a global pandemic. Even so, both games against Duke, neither felt like “normal” but this team, which has been inconsistent since the start, played their best basketball on college basketball’s biggest stage in the regular season. Tonight’s win, all but assures Carolina a spot in the NCAA Tournament, and builds momentum for next week’s ACC Tournament.
We all know how important Senior Day is to Carolina Basketball, and Roy Williams specifically. 4 seniors were in the starting lineup, and set the tone for the sweetest win of the season to date:
Defense: You can’t say enough about the way this team defended tonight. When they're bought in, they are truly a different team. Their activity was on another level, as they were in the passing lanes, denying the ball both on the perimeter, and in the post. After allowing Duke to shoot north of 50% in Durham, they completely took Duke out of their game plan early in the first half. Even though Duke has had their perimeter shooting struggles like Carolina, UNC didn’t allow them to get hot from behind the arc, in what might have been their most complete defensive effort of the season.
Bigs Played Big: For the first time this season, all of Carolina’s post players impacted the game in a positive manner. Garrison Brooks scored 14 points on 6-9 shooting. Armando Bacot bullied Mark Williams and Matthew Hurt with 18 points, on 6-10 shooting, and 6-7 from the foul line. Off the bench, Day’Ron Sharpe added 7 points to go along with Walker Kessler’s 4. In the final minute, Sterling Manley saw the court for the first time this season, and threw down a dunk that had the limited crowd in a frenzy. In an era where everyone wants to play small, UNC has swept Duke by playing inside-out, as their size and strength overwhelmed the Blue Devils tonight.
Caleb Love: After scoring 25 points and handing out 7 assists, Tar Heel fans wanted to see what Love had for an encore. He scored 18 points, and handed out 7 more assists. After not being recruited by Duke, he’s now gotten the best of them in his first 2 games against his childhood team.
Turnovers/Free Throws: UNC committed 20 turnovers tonight, which Duke converted into 23 points. On the flipside, Duke committed 15 turnovers, and the Tar Heels converted those into 16 points. That 7 point disparity was balanced out by Carolina going 21-26 from the foul line, as compared to Duke going 12-16.
Up Next: UNC will now get ready for the ACC Tournament in Greensboro next week. They will await the winner of Notre Dame/Wake Forest, and will play them Wednesday night at 9 pm, on ACC Network.