North Carolina came into Durham tonight and played an incredible first half of basketball. The Blue Devils, Nolan Smith especially, were entirely unprepared for Kendall Marshall, who drove into the lane at will, while the defensive combination of Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock completely stymied Kyle Singler. The half ended with Carolina commanding a 14 point lead at 43-29 and holding all the momentum.
It's just too bad they never played the second half.
Oh, you may read about a second half. There are some people out there who have even invented a Duke victory and a final score. But that's patently absurd. You don't come back from that kind of deficit. Obviously, huge reversals like that would require Duke to score four points on trips down the floor or something. Ridiculous. I wonder why the rest of the game was canceled. But to humor those other news outlets, we'll pretend their mythical "second half" actually occurred.
It appears UNC came into the game determined to stop at least Smith or Singler; they definitely succeeded in the latter. Hounded by Barnes and Bullock, and to a lesser extent Henson, he would shoot an abysmal 3 of 17 from the field, and score only 3 points off free throws in the entire second half. It was a great performance, but only half the battle, and in defending Smith the Heels came up short. Smith would finish with 34 points, helped tremendously by Dexter Strickland's early foul trouble. Strickland picked up his third at the 8:27 mark of the first half, on a questionable charge. He was never as aggressive in the second, where Smith would score 24 of his points, and Marshall just wasn't able to defend well enough in Strickland's absence.
Duke's other scorer this evening was Seth Curry, who finished with 22 on 8 of 12 shooting. 14 of those points came in an eight minute stretch early in the second half when the game went from 43-37 UNC to 54-54. Curry is great at getting defenders to leave their feet, and got a lot of open buckets because of it. It was the Heels' biggest defensive lapse, and by the time they recovered, too many other things were going wrong.
Among them was rebounding. UNC saw a big advantage on the boards in the first evaporate in the second. In part this was due to Duke misses bouncing long, giving them second chances, and in part the play just got rougher underneath and Carolina didn't adjust. Tyler Zeller and John Henson would both finish with double-doubles, Henson scoring 10 of his 14 in the first half and Zeller's 24 evenly distributed between the two periods. But Duke pulled down 40 boards of their own, and that really burned the Heels when they were almost wholly dependent on second-chance points in the last ten minutes.
At that's the final problem with UNC's second half performance. Marshall had to contend with Curry, who was a much better defender than Smith. This kept him out of the lane, and ground Carolina's offense to a standstill. The shot selection got worse, especially considering the threes weren't falling, and the lead slowly evaporated. This is a painful way to lose a game the Heels dominated for the first twenty minutes. Now it's time to regroup for Clemson, and blast their way through the back half of the schedule.