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UNC 88, Duke 72: Tar Heels take round one

Luke Maye led the way as Carolina won in Cameron.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Look, let’s just get it out of the way now: Zion Williamson played less than a minute in this game due to a knee injury. That’s probably going to be mentioned in the first couple paragraphs of any story you read, and the first thing you’ll see in any highlight. As much as we can roll our eyes at the coverage around him, he’s obviously really good and important for Duke.

That being said, that was far from the only talking point in this game. UNC was just flat out the better team in this game and more than deserved this win.

For portions of this game, the Tar Heels were pretty impressive. When they weren’t, it was quite a bizarre, sloppy game that featured 36 turnovers, a combined 10-59 on three-point attempts, and seemingly a dozen offensive fouls. Carolina never trailed in the game and came away with an 88-72 win in the season’s first matchup against Duke.

The Tar Heels, and Luke Maye in particular, carved up the Blue Devils inside early on. Seven minutes into the game, UNC was up 11 and a decent chunk of those points had come in the paint. Duke managed to get the lead down to five late in the first half, but Carolina answered back with a run of their own. The first half ended on a frantic sequence that led to a Garrison Brooks dunk right at the buzzer. That sent the Tar Heels into the half up 10, and they never really looked back from there.

Duke got their deficit back to single digits on two occasions early on in the second half. Both times North Carolina answered back, and they would lead by 10 or more for the last 18 minutes of the game. The Blue Devils caused some nervy moments with some mini runs, but in retrospect, things never actually got that close. UNC kept answering back and they never really went through an extended scoreless drought. They eventually closed out a 16-point win for their first victory in Cameron since 2016.

How UNC won this game is quite apparent: they scored 62 points in the paint. Fifty-four came on layups or dunk, and 72 of the 88 were via two-pointers.

Luke Maye lit up the Blue Devils to the tune of 30 points on 14-24 shooting, 15 rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Cameron Johnson scored 26 on zero made threes. A decent chunk of his points came on layups. The only other Tar Heel to finish in the double digits in scoring was Garrison Brooks with 14. UNC could seemingly get whatever they wanted inside. They went 36-55 from two for the game.

Meanwhile, Coby White scored just nine points on 3-14 shooting with six turnovers. UNC in general went just 2-20 from three. The Tar Heels also turned the ball over 16 times. If anyone told you any of those facts before the game, we all would have guessed that they lost by 16, not won. There’s still plenty that can be improved upon for the second meeting.

Part of the credit for UNC’s win is due to the interior domination. Another part of that is due to Seventh Woods stepping up. He may have had just five points and three assists, but was in for the key run to end the first half and gave even more solid minutes in the second. He was a +11 on the night and was by far the better point guard for UNC.

A third part of that was the Tar Heels’ defense and/or Duke’s bad shooting night. How much credit you want to assign to each is up to you, but the Blue Devils shot just 34.7% for the game. They went 8-39 from three, and five of those came late on when it would have taken a total collapse from UNC for Duke to win.

We’ll never know what would have happened had Williamson been available for the final 39 minutes of the game. That doesn’t change the fact that Tar Heels were the better team on Wednesday night.