Durham, NC — Senior night was a successful one for No. 12 Duke as the Blue Devils swept the season series against North Carolina 89-76 behind Tre Jones’ 21 points and 11 assists.
With the victory, Duke (25-6, 15-5 conference) will be the No. 4 seed heading into next week’s Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
It was a very physical contest between the two rival ball clubs in Cameron Indoor Stadium. However, it was also a big night for the Blue Devils as they got a boost with the win because they came into this game losing three of their last five games. In addition, they were facing a Tar Heels (13-18, 6-14 conference) team that had really hit their stride, winning three consecutive games.
Duke lead this game from wire-to-wire and got off to an amazing start in the first half. What the Blue Devils did well against North Carolina was spread the floor and get the ball to their open players. By doing this, you had the Tar Heels playing frantic on the defensive end with trying to close out on swing passes or trying to get back to their assignments, which allowed the home team to get the best available shot.
This is also led to players such as Justin Robinson knocking down three-point shots to help give his team the early lead.
Yet, what was just as important was the fast break. Duke led the entire way in terms of fast breakpoints, not allowing their rival to register a point in that category in the first half. They were running and gunning after each Tar Heels score and North Carolina struggled to keep up.
Jones got the ball rolling as he’d lead the team in scoring in the first half with 12 points and four dimes. Staying another year in school has worked wonders for this guy as you see he’s a much more polished and steady point guard for coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Defensively, the Blue Devils were more like hound dogs. They made things difficult for North Carolina, not allowing them to run their automatics and get set up. The Tar Heels settled for way too many jump shots in that first half and that was much in large part because their opponents clogged the lane like night time traffic in Los Angeles.
In addition, it worked to the strength of Duke because North Carolina’s star guard Cole Anthony played a lot of one-on-one basketball and it worked to his and the team’s detriment as he finished the contest with nine points on 4-for-14 shooting. The only thing that really kept the Tar Heels afloat in that first half was the play of Garrison Brooks, who had 10 points and five rebounds and Armando Bacot, who had eight points and seven boards but had to sit due to foul trouble.
With North Carolina struggling to find offense from their guards, Duke ran wild and finished the half on a 14-6 run to take a 42-34 lead going into the locker room.
In the second half of action, the Tar Heels found their stride. Coach Roy Williams wanted the ball to go inside and that’s what happened. Offensive rebounds and second-chance points were the names of the game for North Carolina on offense. Bacot and Brooks played did a fine job crashing the glass and putting the ball back up and in.
Spectators could see North Carolina gaining confidence and it showed in their play defensively as well as they started to clog the lane inside. Also, a team that only went to the charity stripe four times, was beginning to become more aggressive, by getting to the line.
However, they didn’t connect on many of those opportunities. Yet, you saw them chipping away at the lead further and further.
Things began to shift due to the fact that Bacot had picked up his fourth foul and had to sit for an extended period. Once that happened… it was curtains. Duke was able to spread the floor time and again, getting the ball inside to big man Vernon Carey Jr., who had a double-double of his own (25 points and 10 boards) off the bench.
Even with Bacot coming back off the bench for North Carolina, the damage had already been done and the Blue Devils were putting the finishing touches on what was looking to be an easy victory. The threes cashed in by Robinson, Cassius Stanley and Jones would seal the deal for Duke and allow them to walk out with an 89-76 victory.
North Carolina will be the No. 14 seed in the ACC tournament and will face the No. 11 seed Virginia Tech at 7 P.M. on March 10. On the other side, Duke will play as the No. 4 seed and do not have to play until the quarterfinal round on March 12.