Rushed Reactions: North Carolina 74, Duke 69

Posted by Matt Auerbach on March 9th, 2018

RTC’s Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24) is providing on-site coverage of the ACC Tournament this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

It Wouldn’t Be a UNC-Duke Game Without Some Controversy (USA Today Images)

  1. Sweet Revenge. In winning this season’s rubber match in convincing fashion, North Carolina also exacted some revenge for a semifinal loss one year ago to its archrival. Coincidentally, that was also the last game the Tar Heels dropped in 2017 on its way to the school’s sixth National Championship. And while not many pundits expected this year’s version of the Tar Heels to make a third consecutive trip to the Final Four, you’d have to be crazy to dismiss their prospects at this juncture. Senior point guard Joel Berry II (13 points, six assists, three steals) is playing with the swagger of a reigning Final Four MOP — continuing a career that in many ways is synonymous this type of season. Versatile classmate Theo Pinson (eight points, seven assists and three steals while defending Marvin Bagley for most of the night) is playing unquestionably the best basketball of his career, while All-ACC forward Luke Maye (17 points, 10 rebounds) continues a remarkably productive junior campaign. Head coach Roy Williams, in perhaps the best coaching job of his illustrious career, has his team humming once again at just the right time. Sharing the ball, trusting in teammates and giving maximum effort on both ends, this team is a far cry from the same group that lost to Wofford at home three months ago, and a very legitimate threat to repeat as national champions a few weeks from now in San Antonio.
  2. Duke played young. While it’s presumed as a matter of fact that Duke is the most talented team in the country, it is undeniably also true that its elite talent is also very green. Despite a late charge to cut the lead to just three points inside the final minute, the preceding eight-minute stretch had been dominated by North Carolina, ultimately proving to be the difference in the game. Loose balls, 18 offensive boards from the Heels and countless hustle plays all tilted the momentum in North Carolina’s favor. Visibly frustrated, Duke dug itself a hole too deep to emerge from. That is something to keep an eye on heading into the NCAA Tournament. In a knockout scenario, a few lost precious moments of focus can lead to a team’s ouster, as Duke learned a year ago at the hands of South Carolina.
  3. Getting Defensive. While raggedy, the first half illuminated the improvement of both teams on the defensive end. The second- and fifth-ranked offenses in terms of efficiency both struggled mightily in the first 20 minutes, and their opposition had a lot to do with it. While Duke’s shift to becoming an exclusively zone team has garnered all the recent headlines, the Heels have also made great strides in getting stops. Duke shot just 36 percent from the floor in the first half, turning it over 10 times, while the Heels weren’t much better, connecting on 37 percent from the field with six miscues. No one questions whether these teams have the offensive chops to make a run at the Final Four, but becoming more balanced on both ends of the floor will serve both well when they inevitably endure an offensive dry spell.

Star of the Game: Luke Maye, North Carolina. Similar to the first semifinal affair, this nod could have gone to any of a handful of Tar Heels, but it was Maye, shaking off a 1-of-15 nightmare in the quarterfinals against Miami, whose night stood the tallest. This was the junior’s 16th double-double on the year.

Quotable:

  • “You just gotta watch yourself.” Berry, joking to good friend Grayson Allen after Allen was issued a questionable flagrant foul.
  • “If anyone accuses me of assaulting someone, I’m asking for forgiveness.” Williams, jokingly referring to him grabbing Sterling Manley to draw his attention away from staring into the crowd during a break in the action.
  • “They’re the number one team in the country — unanimously — and they beat us by 77 points. So we need to play the perfect game tomorrow.” Williams, on the challenge of tomorrow night’s game against Virginia.

Sights and Sounds: Given how boisterous Virginia fans were in the first semifinal, it was reasonable to question how much Duke and North Carolina support there would be for the nightcap. Neither fan base should ever be doubted. Animated and loud, the crowd support shifted favorably depending on which team was making the plays. A first-half sequence in which Grayson Allen drained a three drew a deafening Cameron Indoor type of roar, only to be drowned out seconds later after a thunderous Garrison Brooks dunk sent the Tar Heels’ faithful into its own celebration. For a second straight season, semifinal Friday in Brooklyn felt like it was being played on Tobacco Road.

What’s Next? North Carolina will look to repeat its ACC Tournament performance of two seasons ago when the Heels beat the Cavaliers in Washington D.C. to take home the title. Williams’ squad is pursuing the school’s 19th ACC Tournament title, which would rank only one spot behind Duke’s all-time tally. As for the Blue Devils, they’ll once again be a dangerous #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and without question one of the favorites heading into next week’s event.

Matthew Auerbach (42 Posts)


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