Rushed Reactions: North Carolina 74, Duke 66Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 21st, 2014
Three Key Takeaways.
- North Carolina proves that the Heels can (still) compete with any team. It now seems like a distant memory, but back in November and December, North Carolina was maddeningly inconsistent, beating each of the top three teams in the preseason AP poll but also dropping games to UAB and Belmont. The Tar Heels are no longer losing to the average teams, but they still are rising to the challenge when facing the nation’s best. That was the case again on Thursday night, as the Tar Heels thoroughly outplayed #5 Duke in the second half, rallying from behind to notch the big home win. Not only did North Carolina win its eighth consecutive game, but they once again showed impressive mental toughness in coming from behind for the second time in three days. This is beginning to look like a team that could make a nice run in March.
- When Duke doesn’t hit its threes, they are vulnerable. The Blue Devils had their second bad shooting night in the last three games. They were barely able to overcome that deficiency last Saturday versus Maryland, but couldn’t find enough other ways to score against North Carolina. It’s well known that Duke’s defense is not the caliber of most vintage Duke teams, so it lies with the offense to carry the load. If its shots aren’t falling from deep, Duke needs to find a way to get to the foul line. Against a Tar Heels team that ranks 11th in opponents’ free throw attempts in conference play, the Blue Devils only managed to go 7-of-12 on free throws. They outscored the bigger Heels in the paint by six points, but it wasn’t enough to make up the huge UNC edge from the foul line (+13). After struggling early, the Tar Heels sank 13-of-17 attempts in the second half to take advantage of a Duke team that fouled too much.
- The Smith Center crowd made a big difference. On a night when both teams were fighting fatigue, North Carolina’s fan support — loud and energized all game long — may have been the difference. There was a stretch in the second half when both offenses were struggling and neither team’s shooters looked like they had their legs. But the crowd turned up the noise and gave great energy to the Tar Heels, almost willing them forward at times. Duke could not get over the energy hump as the Tar Heels caught them and pulled away down the stretch. Traditionally, the Smith Center is not known as one of the premier home court advantages in college basketball, but last night showed that it still can be. Maybe it was because the opponent was Duke; or maybe the fans recognized and appreciated the grittiness of this team, one that isn’t overly talented compared to many previous UNC teams. The players performed at a high level in this game, and so did the fans.
Star of the Game. Leslie McDonald, North Carolina. The senior scored a game-high 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting, but even more importantly, McDonald kept the Tar Heels afloat in the first half. He scored 11 before the half while James Michael McAdoo (four points) and Marcus Paige (zero points) were struggling. In the second half, the two stars got going and McDonald continued to also play well, scoring the go-ahead basket with 3:54 to play that gave North Carolina the lead for good.
- “It ranks right up there. Our crowd was sensational the whole game, even when we were down, they were into it.” – North Carolina coach Roy Williams, on the atmosphere of the game.
- “[North Carolina] just played a great second half, and we just didn’t respond to it. We looked tired. We didn’t have life.” – Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, lamenting the Blue Devils’ second half effort.
- “I was feeling pretty hot, and I was making sure I was taking good shots. ” – Leslie McDonald, talking about his shooting performance.“
Sights and Sounds. After an extra week of waiting for this game because of last week’s snowstorm, the UNC crowd provided a great home-court atmosphere in the Smith Center. It may not have been as frenzied as it would have been last Wednesday when more students would have been allowed in the building, but there’s something about the Blue Devils that brings out the youthful passion in the normally stoic North Carolina alumni/older fans.
- Both teams have quick turnarounds and obviously will be facing opponents that will be fresher than them. North Carolina will host Wake Forest at the Smith Center (Saturday – Noon ET – ACCN), as the Tar Heels will be looking for revenge, having lost their ACC opener in Winston-Salem in early January.
- Duke will also be looking to even the score when it hosts #1 Syracuse (Saturday – 7:00 PM ET – ESPN). The first meeting was an instant classic that Syracuse pulled out in overtime. This much anticipated rematch also marks the first trip to the Triangle for the Orange as a brand-new ACC member.