No. 3 North Carolina (26-5, 16-2) dominated No. 4 Duke (26-5, 14-4) in the first meeting in Durham back on February 20.
But this time around, even without both Zion Williamson for the fifth straight game and then without Duke’s starting center Marques Bolden, it wasn’t so easy.
The Heels held on for the 79-70 victory and the first regular season sweep since 2009
Duke led North Carolina 40-38 at the half, largely on the strength of Cam Reddish’s 17 points. Reddish would finish with 23 points, but he made just one second-half field goal and missed all six of his 3-point attempts.
It was senior night in Chapel Hill, but only Kenny Williams had played well to that point, scoring 12 points in the first half as the only Tar Heel in double figures.
Williams would do his part to seal it, drawing a number of offensive fouls – including Duke star R.J. Barrett’s fourth with 8:14 to go – and blocking Barrett’s 3-point attempt with North Carolina up just five points with 56 seconds left.
The Tar Heels were much hotter in the second half at first, getting out to a 15-point lead with 6:47 to go. It was Coby White that helped, scoring 14 of his 21 points in the second half and hitting a number of absurd 3-pointers.
But North Carolina went on an extended drought and Duke capitalized, going on a 10-0 run over the next four minutes, cutting it to 75-70 with 2:12 to go.
But North Carolina made the plays it needed to down the stretch.
White led North Carolina with his 21 points and Williams added 18. Senior Cam Johnson finished with 14, including two crucial free throws down the stretch.
Luke Maye had 30 points in the first meeting at Cameron, but he had just seven in this one. He still added a game-high 16 rebounds, though.
Duke was led by its two talented remaining freshmen – Barrett had 26 points (on 27 shots) and 12 rebounds, while Reddish had 23. No other Blue Devil finished in double figures.
North Carolina shot just 40.5% for the game but hit 12 of 31 3-pointers (38.7%) after hitting just 2 of 20 in the first meeting.
Duke shot 34.2% and just 23.1% in the second half.
North Carolina will be the No. 2 seed in the ACC Tournament and will play in the Thursday game in Charlotte at 7 pm. Duke will be the No. 3 seed and play in the game immediately following North Carolina’s quarterfinal.
As it typically is when these two teams get together, the first half of Duke-Carolina has been a back-and-forth affair.
But Duke is leading 40-38 at the half in spite of being down a few bodies.
Duke announced this morning that Zion Williamson would miss his fifth straight game with a knee sprain, and fellow big man Marques Bolden joined him early on.
At the 17:27 mark of the first half, Bolden went down with an apparent left knee injury trying to block a Garrison Brooks shot on a breakaway.
He stayed down on the ground for a few minutes being tended to by Duke trainers, and two of his teammates helped him back to the locker room.
His return is unknown.
But Duke was carried in the first half by Cam Reddish; the freshman had 17 points on 5 of 11 shooting (3 of 6 from the 3-point line). R.J. Barrett, Duke’s leading scorer, had nine points on 4 of 10 shooting but finished with the first half with three fouls.
Duke gave up 62 points in the paint in the first meeting but the Blue Devils are winning that battle in the first half, 22-20. North Carolina is shooting just 43.2% to 47.1% for Duke, but the Blue Devils have seven turnovers to three for North Carolina.
The Tar Heels were led in scoring by senior Kenny Williams, who had 12 first-half points and hit 2 of his 4 3-point attempts. North Carolina’s two star freshmen were the other two big scorers; Coby White had 7 points on 3 of 6 shooting (plus one assist to no turnovers after having six turnovers in the first meeting) while Nassir Little had 9 points on 4 of 8 shooting in 12 minutes. Little played just 11 minutes total in the first meeting between these two and had two points.
Luke Maye went off for 30 points in Round 1 in Durham, but he had just two points on 1 of 6 shooting in his senior night game. North Carolina’s other senior, Cam Johnson, had five points on 2 of 5 shooting. Both he and Maye are the only Tar Heels with two fouls.
Duke won the rebounding battle in the first half 22-18, but North Carolina had more second-chance points (10-4).
On Tuesday night, North Carolina senior Cam Johnson walked into the quiet Smith Center to get some shots up. He found himself standing at center court, imagining the arena filled just before tip-off.
“I just looked around and gave myself a couple of minutes to let it soak in that I only have one more left in there and prepare myself for that,” Johnson said.
“Part of me does think I can handle it, but come time for the game and after the game, it might be a little different.”
Senior Night is always an emotional time for North Carolina and for Roy Williams. He admitted on Thursday that even after he’d been at Kansas just one year as a first-time head coach, he felt it on their first Senior Night.
For a long time, Williams’ teams were undefeated on Senior Night, even going back to his time at Kansas. And since he got to North Carolina in 2004, that includes every other season facing off against Duke in the regular-season finale.
That streak ended in 2013 – against Duke – and the Tar Heels would lose again to Duke in 2015, too, only to beat them in 2017 on their way to a national championship.
Roy Williams is 5-2 vs Duke on Senior Night. In all but one of those games (’07), one team was in the AP Top 5. This will be the first with both in the top 5.
— Jack Leland (@jleland_) March 8, 2019
North Carolina also lost to Miami on Senior Night a year ago on a shocking buzzer-beater by Ja’Quan Newton.
Williams says he doesn’t remember a senior that he was happy to see go, and that’s especially true for this group – Kenny Williams, Luke Maye and Johnson, a Pitt graduate transfer that has given North Carolina two years.
They all have one thing in common – they were lightly recruited. And that stands in sharp contrast to the team that they will face on Saturday in their final game in the Smith Center, when the No. 3 Tar Heels (25-5, 15-2 ACC) take on No. 4 Duke (26-4, 14-3 ACC).
Although just as the legends of talented freshmen can be a little exaggerated, so too can the legends of Williams’ players, like the one where Luke Maye went from walk-on to what he is now.
“He wasn’t really a walk-on. He agreed to come and mom and dad were going to pay, but he had other scholarship offers,” Williams said. “That part makes it look like he’s come from nowhere, but he could have gone to Davidson. He could’ve gone to probably Clemson, Virginia, Notre Dame.
“The thing I’ll remember is how hard the kid came, how hard he worked. That desire and that determination, the belief in himself. I really appreciate that part. It wasn’t a lark. He didn’t just work. He knew that if he did it the way he wanted to that he’d get a chance.”
Maye will be perhaps most remembered for his game-winning shot against Kentucky in the Elite 8 in 2017, or maybe even his big games against NC State seemingly always. But the myth of him being actual walk-on, as if he tried out for the squad when he got to school and became what he is today, still persists.
Maye also had a huge game the last time North Carolina and Duke faced off, finishing with 30 points on 14 of 24 shooting to go with 15 rebounds.
He was a big reason why the Tar Heels shot 36 of 55 from inside the 3-point line and scored a whopping 62 points in the paint – a number that the Duke players rattled off easily. It was clearly one that they had not forgotten.
“It’s frustrating because you know what you’re capable of, and so when you watch film like that and see guys scoring basically at will in the paint like they did last game, it frustrates you,” Duke junior big man Marques Bolden said on Friday. “So we’re going to try to correct those mistakes for (Saturday).”
And that of course gets to the biggest question remaining – does Duke star Zion Williamson blew out his shoe and suffered a Grade 1 knee sprain in the opening moments of the first meeting on February 20. On Saturday, the team announced via Twitter that he will not play at round two.
NEWS: Zion will miss tonight’s game at UNC as he continues to recover from a Grade 1 right knee sprain. pic.twitter.com/WwdnLg2OkQ
— Duke Basketball (@DukeMBB) March 9, 2019
His head coach Mike Krzyzewski called him doubtful earlier this week, although he added that the way he was progressing, he was not doubtful for the ACC Tournament.
“He had his first really good workout yesterday, but non-contact, and looked really good,” Krzyzewski said. “I would say he’s doubtful again tomorrow.
“Yesterday was pretty exciting, really, to see him move and have confidence in his movements. Now we have to get him into conditioning and have him do some work with contact. He can do all those things when there isn’t contact but when there is, you do things a bit different. We’re on a really good trend here and I’m excited about it. He’s worked hard.”
In that first meeting, it was announced by halftime that Williamson would not return. But Williams did not tell his team that, and they continued to expect him back.
He wanted them to keep that same mindset.
“We prepared before we went over there to be playing against Duke’s full team, including Zion. He’d been having as phenomenal a year as any freshman I’d ever seen,” Williams said. “We’re still preparing like Zion is going to play. … We’re going to give a scouting report. We’re going to give a scouting report with Zion in it. And if he doesn’t play, that’s their decision.”
Williamson not playing changes the dynamic for both teams, of course. North Carolina won the first meeting by 16 points, but it’s unlikely the Tar Heels score 62 points in the paint with Williamson manning the middle.
Of course, North Carolina also went a very uncharacteristic 2 of 20 from the 3-point line, and that’s something the Tar Heels will look to change, too.
“You don’t expect to go 2 for 20 (from 3) and win, but we were so dominant with making everything inside. The game could be 180 degrees away from what the game was over there. You never know until you get into it,” Williams said. “I’ve always said you’ve got to score against Duke.
(Assistant coach) Steve Robinson’s got a great saying: attack or be attacked, because they’re going to attack you, so that’s the way we think we do too – we’re going to attack them back.”
North Carolina came out aggressive from the opening tip in Round 1 in Cameron, scoring 14 second-chance points and 14 fast break points to along with those 62 paint paints (to just 28 for Duke).
“They’re as good an offensive team as we’ve played and will play. They hit the boards, too. But they can space you because they really have four shooters on the court – hitters, not just shooters. They’ve got guys who hit shots,” Krzyzewski said. “We gave up a lot in the paint, over 60 points in the paint. With or without Zion, we can’t do that. We have to somehow limit the number of points they score right by the basket.
“Fast breaks, second shots, we have to try to do that. We did not do a good job with that. Obviously, Zion got hurt right away but still, we should have done a much better job of that. If Zion doesn’t play, we’re working on it. We’re working on it even if he did play.”
Duke still has quite a bit of talent on its roster even without Williamson in the lineup. But he certainly changes what Duke is able to do on both ends.
The Blue Devils are 3-2 in five (mostly) full games without Williamson, counting the North Carolina game, but they are coming off of a shocking near-loss to a bad Wake Forest team at home on Tuesday night.
Bolden said he wouldn’t call it a wake-up call, but that game – along with plenty of other games this season where things have abruptly changed for the Blue Devils – was a lesson learned.
“Just to come prepared. Obviously that was a tough team we played against Tuesday night in Wake Forest, and so (it’s) for us to come out ready to play our basketball from the jump,” Bolden said. “We just have to be prepared for anything because anything can happen in those 40 minutes we’re playing.”
It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster overall without him. Obviously, giving up 62 points in the paint is not something Krzyzewski wants his team to do with or without Williamson. But after losing to North Carolina, his team went up to Syracuse and played a pretty solid game in a 10-point road win. Then they lost at Virginia Tech the following Tuesday, only to thump Miami the following Saturday at home and then have the near-miss against Wake Forest.
Krzyzewski acknowledged that his team could be doing some things differently without Williamson. But he doesn’t want to make what he called “wholesale change” when he knows Williamson will be back, and soon.
“You change somewhat but you can’t just do a wholesale change if you know the guy is coming back because we’ve got to be ready when he comes back to be who we were when he was with us,” Krzyzewski said. “In saying that, you also don’t have much practice time with the schedule at this time of the year. You hear people say ‘you should put in this and you should put in that’ … you should keep quiet, really. You should talk about something you know about.
“Overall, it’s been good. Our guys have done a good job with it. My staff has done a good job. Would we have liked to play better? Yes. … There’s going to be more fluctuation. But it’s not like they’ve been bad.”
Williams remembers some key injuries some of his teams suffered late in the season, including point guard Ty Lawson being hurt late in 2009 and missing some time in the ACC Tournament.
He remembers what he told the rest of his team: step up and be better to make up for it.
And they did.
“Zion has had a pretty incredible year but Ty Lawson was pretty dadgum important to us, too. I told Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington and those guys, y’all have got to make up for it. Well they’ve got some pretty good players over there that I’m sure they’re telling them the same thing,” Williams said. “We’ll try to prepare for him being in the game and if he’s not, he’s not. If he is, he is.”
R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish were actually higher-rated players than Williamson coming out of high school, and Barrett in particular has been spectacular.
He’s answered the call without Williamson, scoring 33 against North Carolina, 30 at Syracuse and then 28 in the win over Wake Forest. He had just 21 in the loss at Virginia Tech in a game where he was back and forth to the locker room with a stomach ailment and 19 in the blowout win over Miami.
Sophomore Alex O’Connell has also come off the bench to play more of a steady role, and junior Jack White broke out of a long shooting slump.
“We showed amazing poise at Syracuse. They kind of surprised me how confident and poised they were. This was the game after, and with Carolina, there will be an unbelievable environment,” Krzyzewski said.
“If we can show that poise and strength, then it’ll translate into the things that you want to see that you would like basketball-wise. If you don’t have those qualities, then you’re not going to see that. You’re not going to see it. So I’d rather stick with those values that I’d like to see and I think it’ll translate into better basketball.”
The two teams will know for sure after the Louisville at Virginia game wraps up immediately before theirs begins, but both could have a chance to be the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament, should Virginia lose.
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SOURCE: Wral Sports Fan, by Lauren Brownlow