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Heel Tough Blog: Veterans the Difference in Tar Heels Win Over Duke

Updated: Feb 4

Bob Donnan- USA Today Sports

The Tar Heels faced their toughest test of the season on Saturday night coming off their first conference loss as they took on the Duke Blue Devils in the Smith Center looking to get Hubert Davis his first home win in the rivalry. One of the advantages that the Tar Heels had coming into the matchup was the sheer amount of experience that they have on the roster relative to Duke and it showed up in a big way in the 93-84 victory in this iteration of the greatest rivalry in sports.


There were questions about how Harrison Ingram would handle playing in the rivalry for the first time, but you could tell he was built for this rivalry from the word go. Ingram, who said in the postgame that he watched the Georgia Tech game five times because of how mad he was about how things went, scored 11 first half points and helped set the tone from the perimeter on a night where the Tar Heels needed well in that area. He carried that first half production that helped the team establish a double-digit lead at halftime into the second half, pouring in ten more points, including a couple of tough mid-range jumpers to keep the Blue Devils from getting the game back in reach. His 21 points were his most as a Tar Heel and his five made threes were the most of his college career. He also made his presence felt on the defensive end, registering a team-high four steals that helped the Tar Heels get their transition offense going and pulling down a team-high 13 rebounds.


He wasn’t the only vet that had a huge night offensively. In his final home game against the Blue Devils, Armando Bacot reminded everyone why he is one of the most dominant bigs to ever play in the conference. He dropped in a game-high 25 points on 10-13 shooting, his best career scoring night against the Blue Devils, and ripped down 10 rebounds for his tenth double-double of the season. He brought the fight to Kyle Filipowski right out the gate, asserting his presence on the block and hitting some tough shots over him to help set the tone. He wasn’t just great on that end of the floor, though. Once again, he was altering shots all night long and he did a really good job of staying in front of Filipowski most of the night, forcing the sophomore big to have to hit some difficult shots. This may have been the best game that we have seen from Bacot all season long and when it comes to the big games this team will play down the stretch of the season, he will step up.


Those performances from Ingram and Bacot took the pressure off of R.J. Davis, who has been carrying this team most of the way this season. The team had a ten point lead at the halftime break despite just four points from Davis, which shows you just how balanced this team is scoring wise. The second half wasn’t the most dominant half that you’ll see from him, but he hit two of the biggest shots of the night with his two three-point makes and salted the game away at the line. Even on his “quiet” nights, Davis finds a way to make a big impact.


The unsung hero of this game, though, has to be the oldest man on the floor, Cormac Ryan. Twice in the final minute, Duke had a chance to cut the lead to two possessions and put the pressure back on the Tar Heels, but he made two big defensive plays to seal the victory. The block on Jared McCain was an amazing response to the turnover he had when he got tied up in the backcourt and the steal off the inbound just two possessions later came right after the questionable hook-and-hold call on Davis that gave Duke two shots and the ball. While those plays are the ones that we will remember, he deserves a lot of praise for the job he did all night against the Blue Devils most important player, Tyrese Proctor. He helped hold the talented sophomore guard to just two points on 1-6 from the field. Considering how well he has played in Duke’s biggest wins, that was a huge reason why the Tar Heels were able to control this game throughout.


We said coming in that Carolina needed its best players to play well and they did more than that. Now the question is, can this core recreate this when the team’s meet again in early March?


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