Each time a Duke vs. North Carolina matchup shows up on the schedule, college basketball fans are usually in for a treat, and Saturday’s matchup was no different. This game is always a big deal because it’s the biggest rivalry in the sport, but on top of that, the winner of this game was going to get the number two seed in next weeks ACC Tournament and even more importantly, greatly increase their chances at locking up a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The game got off to a very fast start, with the teams trading buckets for the first couple of minutes, with the biggest lead being a 6-2 North Carolina lead, before Duke was able to go on a run and take a 16-11 lead after a layup by R.J. Barrett. The tempo of this game was exactly what you would expect between two teams with the athletes that these teams feature. It was like watching a tennis match with the two teams going up and down the court. It seemed like every time one team would score, the other team would be right down the floor answering. It was beautiful basketball to watch.
The Blue Devils did lose big man Marques Bolden to a knee injury with 17:27 left in the first half and he never returned and you would think that would lead to North Carolina being able to go inside and dominate, but for the rest of the first half that just wasn’t the case. Duke was able to keep this game at a fast tempo and Cam Reddish caught fire, stepping up for the Blue Devils as R.J. Barrett was dealing with some foul issues, but was unable to come off the floor because of the lack of depth Duke is dealing with after the injury to Bolden and of course with no Zion Williamson.
And credit North Carolina’s Kenny Williams. He was able to do a great job of getting up into Barrett and not giving him anything easy, drawing two offensive fouls in the first half, putting Barrett at three fouls going into the half.
Both teams seemed to wear down a little at the end of the first half as the pace of the game slowed and the teams weren’t making shots at nearly the same rate they were in the first half, but it was still a pretty high-scoring first half, with Duke taking a 40-38 lead into the half.
The second half started out a lot like the first half did in terms of the pace of the game, but North Carolina was able to control a lot of the scoring coming out as Luke Maye was able to catch fire after having a quiet first half in the scoring column. In the first two minutes of the half the Tar Heels went on a 7-1 run to take a 45-41 lead.
R.J. Barrett stepped up when North Carolina got hot and was able to hit a pair of threes, showing the kind of elite scorer he can be, leading the game to be tied at 50, then a pretty quiet part of the game came in terms of scoring, but once both teams broke out of their brief cold spells, Coby White showed why he’s seen his draft stock soar over the course of the season, as he was able to get hot from three-point land, finishing with 21 points, with 14 of those coming in the second half, and White really got going at the 11:35 point when he hit a three and then two possessions later, he was able to hit a lay-up while getting fouled, and then he converted the free throw.
After a pair of Cam Reddish free throws with 9:12 left to cut the Tar Heels lead to 64-60, North Carolina went on a huge run that started with a dunk by Garrison Brooks and then a three by Coby White made it a double-digit game at 70-60. North Carolina stretched the lead out to 75-60 on a Kenny Williams three with 6:47 left, but then North Carolina got loose with the ball on offense and credit Duke because they didn’t throw in the towel.
The Blue Devils put together a 10-0 run and on a three by R.J. Barrett with 2:18 left cut the lead to 75-70 and it looked like we might have yet another classic finish between these two historic programs, but North Carolina was able to stiffen up on defense and over the last couple of minutes didn’t make any field goals but they did go 4/4 from the line, closing out their rivals 79-70 and clinching a share of the regular season ACC title with Virginia and they will be the number two seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament and are looking at likely being a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament, regardless of what happens this next week.
Top Photo: North Carolina Men’s Basketball official Twitter account