North Carolina entered the game with sole possession of the ACC regular season championship. They left the court leaving absolutely zero doubt as to who are the true champions of the Old North State (and the conference). In another classic, edge of your seat affair, UNC pulled away late to atone for their loss in Durham last month.
Michael Jordan’s attendance was simply an added bonus.
The first half was a torrid, fast paced affair that saw the Heels and Blue Devils trade haymakers. Both teams shot over 50% from the floor, and exchanged the lead 18 times. Led by Joel Berry’s 19 first half points (5-5 from three), North Carolina showed the grit and toughness they have displayed throughout the season.
Isaiah Hicks, who missed the first game with a hamstring injury also made his presence felt early, as he scored 10 points on 4-5 shooting (2-2 from the line). That helped lead UNC’s dominance in the paint, where they outscored the Devils 20-10 as both teams entered the half.
Every single possession proved vital, as Duke appeared to switch tactics and continuously attacked the paint compared to the three point barrage we have become accustomed to seeing. Duke finished the half shooting 15-17 from the line, and 4-8 from behind the arc. Alternatively, UNC shot 5-13 from three (anyone not named Joel Berry was 0-8), and drained only 7 of 9 free throws.
North Carolina entered the locker room with a 48-46 lead. Whatever had ailed them against Virginia, when they only scored 43 points for the entire game, was clearly no longer an issue.
The stage was set for another instant classic, and the second half delivered.
North Carolina finally settled in on defense, holding Duke to only 36.7% shooting from the floor, including 27.3% from three (3-11). For their part, UNC responded by continuing to pound the ball inside and hit 51.6% of their shots in the second half, while only shooting 1-4 from three.
Yet, despite improved defense and continuing dominance in the paint, UNC could not pull away. With 5:54 remaining, the score was tied at 71.
Then, the soon-to-be ACC POY took over. Justin Jackson struggled for much of the game, as his first six 3-pt attempts failed to find the inside of the cylinder. His seventh attempt finally connected. That broke the 71-71 tie, putting the Heels up 74-71. It was the last tie of the game. After 24 lead changes, UNC didn’t trail again.
The next two possessions ended in lay-ups by Hicks and Luke Maye. Both were assisted by Jackson. I hope the ACC POY voters were paying attention. Jackson finished with 15 points and 4 assists, but he made a difference when it mattered most.
From there, Joel Berry effectively broke the spirits of Duke fans everywhere. Berry scored the next seven Tar Heel points with an array of jump shots, driving layups, and free throws. In what was easily his best game he’s ever played against Duke, he finished with 28 points on 9-14 shooting.
Not to be outdone, Isaiah Hicks finally stayed on the court for a full game. He finished with 21 points and 9 rebounds. Most importantly, he only was called for two fouls. It was a well deserved performance for Hicks who has struggled the past two weeks.
The end result was the eighth ACC regular season championship for Roy Williams and the Tar Heels since Roy came home. Seven of those have been won outright. Two of them have come in the past two seasons.
Oh, and the Heels finished 16-0 at home.
Meanwhile, Duke, the pre-season consensus favorite to win the ACC and NCAA titles, finished fifth. They have to actually earn their way into the ACC quarterfinals.
I really hope the recruits on hand, took notes.