One of the most historic rivalries in college sports met on Tobacco Road for the 240th time this past Saturday. In their final regular season matchup before the ACC Tournament, the visiting #3 Duke Blue Devils (28-3, 15-3) beat the #19 University of North Carolina Tar Heels (21-10, 11-7) 84-77.
The last time these two perennial powerhouses met, exactly a month ago on February 7th, underdog UNC kept it closer than anyone expected, taking game favorite Duke to overtime before falling 92-90. UNC managed to hold Duke’s standout freshman Jahlil Okafor to 12 points in that game, but all five Duke starters contributed, scoring in double digits. The question going into this game was if UNC would be able to put forth a strong defensive effort long enough to shut down not only Okafor, but the rest of Duke’s role players for the win. Going into the locker room at halftime with a slim lead, it seemed like they could.
Although Duke won the opening tipoff, UNC struck first, when Brice Johnson got the home crowd on its feet with a two-handed slam off a steal. Duke regained its composure, going 5-5 until their first miss four minutes in to the game. Down 18-10, UNC found their stride, going on an 8-0 run to bring them within two points of Duke.
Some of UNC’s credit belonged to Duke, who missed three shots in a row and took too many ill-advised three-pointers in the first half.
Duke led 24-23 with eight minutes left in the first half, but the team had only made two of their last thirteen shots, which allowed Marcus Paige to hit a three and give UNC its first lead since the first basket of the game. To make matters worse, Duke committed two straight turnovers, giving UNC two chances to capitalize on their sloppy play.
Duke’s first basket in nearly twenty minutes came with three minutes left in the half. They were two for nineteen before that. It was that kind of inconsistency and lackluster play that gave UNC a 33-31 lead at halftime.
UNC started the second half with the same intensity they ended the half with. Marcus Paige found his stroke, making another three-pointer to give his team a 40-33 lead, their biggest of the game. Paige sunk another flawless three, but that was the last time UNC was truly in the game.
“We rushed a couple shots, a couple passes got a little errant and they capitalized on every single one of those,” Paige said to ESPN.com about his and the team’s second half struggles.
Duke’s resiliency was demonstrated when they regained the lead with thirteen minutes remaining in the game, despite Justice Winslow (four fouls), Tyus Jones (back spasms), and Okafor (undisclosed injury) all on the bench. Jones was ready to get back in to help preserve the win.
“I was worried. Anytime you go down hard, you want to be out there competing. I was very scared, but I was determined to get back in there because I wanted to help contribute and have my brothers’ back,” Jones said to the Duke Chronicle.
Duke managed to hold on to the lead, mainly due to forcing UNC to commit 14 turnovers and scoring 19 points as a result.
After going up 68-59 with 6:17 left, Duke never looked back and used their late free throw opportunities to seal the 84-77 win.
Despite the injury scare, Jones finished with a game high 24 points and 6 rebounds.
“They believe in me to have the ball in my hands and to be the point guard of this team, and Coach [Mike Krzyzewski] believes in me,” Jones said to ESPN.com.