Defense(clap-clap), Defense(clap-clap), Defense(clap-clap)
Wow, where do I even begin?
How about the best defensive effort of the season made possible by the focused intensity UNC brought on that end of the floor but also by the genius of Roy Williams. According to the players, two days ago Roy implemented a defense they had never played before and it ended up working like a charm. It was heavily debated both here and most likely on the message board whether Roy would breakdown and go zone on Duke given how effective it had been in the two ACC losses and the near miss at NC State. However, there is a reason Roy wins 80% of his games and that is because he can adjust his system to deal with another team instead of chunking the system in place for something he is not comfortable coaching.
Basically, Roy instructed his players to switch on the screens instead of fighting through them and this was effective mainly because even when you ended up with a ton of odd matchups such as Hansbrough guarding Paulus which left a smaller player on one of the Duke bigs, the Devils failed to take advantage of it and UNC guarded the ball well. Part of this scheme also included shadowing guys like Demarcus Nelson with a taller player which made his drives to the basket extremely difficult since he had trouble shooting or finishing over the taller defender. Since Nelson and others had so much trouble finishing and UNC was switching off, the Heels ended up blocking 15 shots. All of this was executed almost perfectly, especially in the first half when Duke had 10 turnovers. And had UNC done a better job keeping Greg Paulus from hitting threes, UNC would have been up 15-20 at the half. The 2nd half was better for Duke, mainly because they did a better job piercing the UNC defense and seemed to be lifted by the crowd. But when Duke took the lead 68-66 it was the last time they would score and UNC ended up holding Duke to only 68 points and under 40% shooting. And the other shocking thing is UNC scored the same number of points in this game as the last. The difference was the defense, which held Duke to 21 fewer points.
Offensively speaking UNC got the kind of games from Danny Green and Wayne Ellington they missed last month when they combined for 11 points on 4-24 shooting. Tonight was the polar opposite with the duo going 14-28 for 34 points. This was huge because Duke swarmed Hansbrough and for whatever reason the refs decided to eat their whistles making this only the second game since Hansbrough put on a UNC uniform he did not see the FT line. Still he had 16 points and 15 boards including a huge putback late in the game. Ty Lawson looks very close to being back at 100%. There is still some hesitation on his part but he did get to the rack a few times, played excellent defense and looks like he is on track get rolling next week. Quentin Thomas shook off the past two bad games and outside one moment where he lost the ball on the break he played 17 minutes with three assists, five points that included a huge three to keep UNC on pace with Duke. The two PGs combined for 15 points, six assists and three turnovers. Not bad at all.
Overall we saw what UNC is capable of doing on defense. We also saw how balanced they can be on offense if they run into a team swarming Hansbrough and the refs are calling the game loose. This game is another example of a mature and tested Tar Heel team adjusting to the situation and playing winning basketball down the stretch despite the difficulties that arose. UNC finished the regular season undefeated away from the Dean Dome and 8-0 versus the ACC on the road. Given the tough nature of road games in this league that is a rare feat. When Duke took the 68-66 lead, UNC once again showed their mettle and proceeded to pitch a shutout over the final 5:30 to win at Duke for the third straight year. Yes, Steve Lavin, winning at Cameron is possible.
So UNC wins the ACC Regular season outright at 14-2 just as they did in 2005 and 1993 both national title seasons. The Heels enter the ACC Tournament as the #1 seed and will face the winner of the Wake-FSU game.