Cameron Indoor Stadium played host to the latest thriller in the UNC-Duke rivalry on Thursday night, which once again came down to who wanted it more in the final minutes.
For the fifth time in the past six meetings, however, Duke found a way to pull out the victory—defeating the No. 8 Tar Heels 86-78 thanks to a perimeter shooting barrage that included 13 made three-pointers.
Heavily criticized guard Grayson Allen scored 25 points and hit seven threes to lead an impressive performance by the 18th-ranked Blue Devils (19-5, 7-4 ACC).
ACC Player of the Year candidate Luke Kennard added 20 points to the winning cause, while freshman Jayson Tatum tallied all 19 of his points after halftime. Both Kennard and Tatum also added a pair of threes apiece.
It was a familiar sight for Tar Heel fans who have become accustomed to watching their team come up just short of the Blue Devils thanks to these sorts of long range attacks.
Defense seemed to be optional for most of the night, as each team shot above 50 percent, but Duke was able to tighten up down the stretch.
Somehow, some way, the score ended up tied at 70 apiece with just under seven minutes remaining– despite constant momentum swings that created the illusion that one team or another was dominating at that given time.
UNC guard Nate Britt hit a free throw to put the Tar Heels (21-5, 9-3 ACC) ahead at the 6:50 mark, but Duke’s trio of Allen, Kennard and Tatum responded after that with a 7-0 run to take control of the game back for good.
The final minute saw the Tar Heels pull within three points, but they ultimately failed to get an opportunity at a game-tying shot.
“We didn’t make the plays we needed to over the last three or four minutes,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said after the game. “You gotta give them credit. We took care of the basketball—didn’t turn it over—but we still didn’t get the offense we wanted. All of a sudden we were running our offense 35 feet from the basket.”
Just hours before tip-off, UNC learned it would be without senior forward Isaiah Hicks due to a strained hamstring suffered in practice.
Sophomore Luke Maye was forced to make his first career start as a result, but the Tar Heels refused to make excuses.
Leading scorer Justin Jackson played heavy minutes both outside and inside due to Hicks’ absence, finishing with a team-high 21 points in a team-high 36 minutes.
Although the lack of traditional post muscle for long stretches likely helped Duke become just the fourth team to outrebound the Tar Heels this season, Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski laid some high praise on Jackson in his postgame press conference.
“For me, I think Jackson’s as good a player as we’ve played against all year,” Krzyzewski said. “His movement, he never gets tired.”
The Hall-of-Fame coach, sounding exhausted himself, then paused for a second and continued.
“They’re good,” he said. “And we were good.”
Of the Tar Heels’ final eight shots, though, Jackson took only one—a three-pointer he sank with just under three minutes to play. The rest of the team combined to go 0-for-7 over that six-minute span.
With 15 points, Joel Berry was the only other UNC player to reach double figures.
Theo Pinson provided a spark in his return from a sprained ankle—contributing six points, seven rebounds and three assists in 19 minutes—but his pinpoint passing wasn’t enough by itself to create the kind of offense the Tar Heels needed in crunch time.
“We didn’t move, but I think their defense was part of that,” Williams told reporters. “I think it’s a two-way street.
“They were good defensively, but I think we took a couple of shots I thought were too quick and never got the ball inside.”
Despite all the problems presented during the night, the Tar Heels still found themselves needing just one defensive stop for a chance to tie the game up in the final 60 seconds.
Using an aggressive trapping defense, UNC forced Tatum into a missed three-point attempt.
A long rebound bounced into the backcourt, but it was the Blue Devils who got it, all but ending the Tar Heels’ chances of victory—and leaving them just inches short against Duke yet again.
“I didn’t like our rebounding and I didn’t like the lack of scoring from inside,” Williams said. “I guess, it’s North Carolina and Duke—the kids are gonna be very competitive. I wasn’t disappointed in how competitive we were.
“I’d like to have gotten that long rebound, when they missed that shot and it was a three-point game, I think that should have probably been our ball,” he added. “That was probably the biggest disappointment right there.”
The Tar Heels will try to bounce back next Wednesday, when they travel to Raleigh to face NC State–a team they previously beat by 51 points earlier this season.
- UNC has lost each of the four games it has been outrebounded.
- There were 17 lead changes in total.
- Pinson led the Tar Heels in rebounding, despite grabbing just seven and coming off the bench for only 19 minutes.
- UNC’s four made three-pointers were the fewest it’s made since a win over Tennessee in December.