Three Key Takeaways.
- No matter the venue, Carolina, Duke gonna Duke, Carolina. The rivalry that almost never fails to deliver traveled north and didn’t disappoint an electrified Brooklyn crowd. North Carolina often appeared in complete control in the first half as the Tar Heels’ lead swelled to 13 points a pair of times, but Duke’s Grayson Allen (four first-half threes, including three in a 95-second span) and Jayson Tatum (18 first half points) managed to keep the Blue Devils within striking distance. North Carolina maintained control in the early second half until point guard Joel Berry picked up his fourth foul at the 15:04 mark with the Heels up nine. What ensued was a 23-7 Duke blitz, sparked by Allen, a rejuvenated Kennard and Jackson. The previously weary Blue Devils ended up being the team that imposed its will down the stretch, and the seemingly punch drunk Tar Heels failed to respond the way anyone expected.
- Grayson Allen is back. While the ACC Tournament title has its own cachet and the importance of the rivalry cannot be overstated, North Carolina and Duke always play with an eye toward the trophy awarded in early April. For Duke to become a legitimate contender, though, Allen must perform like an All-American. The junior guard’s travails have been well-documented, but more pertinently from a basketball perspective, his emotional and physical struggles have sometimes made him a marginal player. And after the no-show that was Wednesday’s 12 minutes of scoreless action, he was vital in keeping Duke alive early before spearheading the victory late. He looked healthy, focused, determined and generally back to his peak self. In short, the Duke team we thought we’d see in November simply waited until mid-March to show up. This is a major problem for the other 67 teams hoping to join the Blue Devils in Phoenix.
- Joel Berry is the most valuable Tar Heel. While Justin Jackson was deservedly tabbed as the ACC Player of the Year, it is Berry who is the Tar Heels’ most valuable player. He is the only pure point guard on the roster, and North Carolina simply looked lost while he was in foul trouble on the bench. Kennedy Meeks, who dominated Duke on the interior in the first half, became largely uninvolved without Berry on the flo0r. The team just appeared totally discombobulated with its junior floor leader on the pine, with a litany of out of whack possessions.