Duke/Carolina — after tipoff

A few notes from Saturday night’s classic Duke/Carolina tilt.

 

This is what heavyweight boxing used to be. Wow. Two giants standing in the middle of the ring and throwing shots at each other, with both landing big blows. 

 

Carolina was efficient, poised, patient and solid in the first half while Duke was a little scattered, plagued by poor shot selection and poor rebounding. That led to the Heels holding a big 11-point lead at the half, which turned out to be much-needed house money on the road in Cameron.

 

How good was Danny Green for UNC? He was awful a month ago in Duke’s win in Chapel Hill, but came back with the best all-around game of his career in Durham. Every one of his 18 points were huge, with eight coming in a 10-0 run in the first half and four coming late in the decisive 10-0 run to close the game.

Bigger, though, were his blocked shots. He’s not a great on-the-ball defender, but from the weak side, Green is every bit as crucial to the Heels as Brandan Wright and Marvin Williams were. Green had a whopping seven blocked shots to go with eight rebounds. Huge, huge, HUGE effort from Green.

 

This could have been a blowout. It really could have. That may be hard to believe now, but if Greg Paulus doesn’t light it up on four of five trips late in the first half, Duke could have been down by a ton at the break.

The Devils probably would’ve still come back, but those 12 first-half points from Paulus — he had only three after the break — were critical. What a shooting display.

 

How does Gerald Henderson make big plays and then disappear for such long stretches? This must drive Duke fans crazy.

 

DeMarcus Nelson can take it to the hole any time he wants. The Devils love the 3-pointer, and though Nelson is a good enough shooter, he should put the ball on the floor and drive more. The Heels didn’t have anybody who could stop him, and yet the Devils didn’t go to that late when they couldn’t get a bucket. They settled for bombs instead.

 

When Duke was on its way to beating UNC in Chapel Hill last month, it took a lead, used its spread offense and surgically dissected the Heels’ defense. UNC couldn’t get a stop when it absolutely needed it, and Carolina lost the game as a result.

The same thing happened for Duke for much of the second half. The Devils got back into the game, and after tying it at 57, the teams tied it again at 60, 62, 64 and 66 before Duke took a 68-66 lead with 5:51 left. At that point, UNC had to work for tough shots while Duke was spreading it and making relatively easy layups inside.

Somehow, though, the Heels came up with some big stops — which they didn’t do in Chapel Hill — and crashed the glass, something Duke did better than Carolina for the first 15 minutes of the second half. 

UNC won this game on a 6-minute stretch of defense. Duke missed its last 11 shots, some of them rather open, but the Heels got stops, got boards and got into transition. The game quickly went from Duke’s pace to Carolina’s.

 

After Scheyer’s putback to put Duke ahead with 5:51 to go, the Devils never scored again. Who would’ve thought that?

 

Fifteen blocked shots for Carolina. Incredible stat.

More incredible? The Heels switching off screens. Carolina fans, have you EVER seen that before?

 

I can see how people could love to hate Tyler Hansbrough, especially with the lovefest Dick Vitale gave him during the broadcast. But 16 points and 15 boards? Tough, tough kid, even though he looks like he travels every time he has the ball. 

And Hansbrough, though he wasn’t a force offensively in the first half, got Duke into early foul trouble that helped UNC get on that big early run.

Carolina needed that house money, and Hansbrough was a big reason why, no matter what the stats say.

 

Wayne Ellington, who combined with Green to shoot 3-for-24 in the teams’ first meeting, finished with a silky 16 points. His layup tied the game at 68 and his 3 with a defender all over him during Paulus’ binge was a big shot. And how about the lucky turn-around for UNC’s first basket?

 

Deon Thompson only had seven points, but he made two big foul shots late and had five blocks. Five blocks!

 

If they meet again on Sunday, the winner should get a No.1 seed in the tournament. If Duke wins, then both teams should get a No. 1. UNC’s winning the ACC regular season title is a body of work while the ACC Tournament is impressive, but only a weekend of work.

Still, should Duke win it, the Devils deserve a top seed as well, especially if they beat UNC in the final.

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Filed under College Basketball, Designated Hitter, Duke Blue Devils, Sports, Sports columns, The Sanford Herald, UNC Tar Heels

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