Some of these games don’t live up to the hype.
This one did.
In one of the best games of the college basketball season, Duke and UNC took center stage to put on a show for everyone as the eyes of the sports world start to turn to college basketball. Carolina would come out on top, 82-78, led by Joel Berry. The senior led the Tar Heels with 21 points and 6 assists in his last game at home against the Blue Devils.
The first part of the game played out much like many thought it would: Duke continually used their size advantage inside to get easy baskets close, while Carolina kept the game at arm’s reach thanks to clutch three pointers by Kenny Williams and Cameron Johnson. Carolina would hit 7 of 16 three pointers, without which Duke would have easily steamrolled Carolina early.
Duke was able to extend their lead to 12 with 6:32 left. The unease was palpable as Duke was getting any shot they wanted to go down, and Carolina was afraid to get close to the basket and challenge the size of the Devils. Carolina did manage to guard Duke’s perimeter well, and the lack of a kill shot kept Carolina in the game.
Berry would respond with a layup and a foul to get the Heels back to within 9, and from that point forward it felt like Carolina unlocked the secret to beating this team: drive to the basket. Carolina would spend the next minutes scoring four more layups on route to a 17-9 run to end the half, which cut the lead to four.
The second half started with Carolina shooting out of a cannon, and turning the four point deficit into a two point lead thanks to a Maye jumper and two more layups, consistently attacking the basket. Duke was forced to call a timeout, but it didn’t help, as Carolina continued to push and stretched it to 10 as the attack led to open shots from outside.
It wasn’t just on offense, Carolina’s defense ended up holding Duke to 48.4% shooting after Duke seemingly couldn’t miss, and held the Devils to just 9-25 from behind the arc. Even when Carolina’s shots stopped falling, going over four minutes without a basket, Carolina forced Duke to work for their points. The Devils were never able to get closer than three for the rest of the game. In a sign of their defense, no one for the Devils score more than 20 points, as Gary Trent, Jr was their leading scorer with 16. Player of the Year candidate Marvin Bagley played all but one minute and only scored 15 points, but did pull down 16 boards.
Carolina managed to outbound the taller Devils 44-38, and this is after losing the battle 21-16 in the first half. Carolina was faster to the ball, followed all their shots, and generally out worked Duke until the end.
As it normally is, though, Duke managed to get into a position of keeping it close. With 33 seconds left, Berry missed a free throw that kept the lead at five points. Duke attempted to work for a shot, but all around great guy Grayson Allen had the ball stolen by Kenny Williams, who handed it to Berry. The rest of the Duke team assumed Allen would foul Berry and left Allen and Berry alone. Allen, however, was saddled with four fouls and didn’t want to leave the game, which allowed Berry to melt ten seconds and eventually a wide open Theo Pinson was found for the game-sealing slam that blew the roof off of the Smith Center.
Cameron Johnson had a huge double-double in the game, with 18/13, and Maye contributed 15 and 8 against the huge Duke lineup.
Carolina won’t get a lot of time to savor this win, as they are back in action Saturday in Raleigh against a State squad looking for a season sweep.
*This article was edited to point out Berry was the one who Allen did not foul at the end.