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In a game of runs, UNC’s seniors delivered

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The Heels showed not all scoring runs are equal in the dismantling of the Blue Devils.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

UNC completed the regular season sweep against Duke. You knew that. What you might not realize, though, is how they did it.

I mean, how they really did it.

Basketball is a game of runs. Sometimes those happen on offense with quick scoring bursts. Other times, defensive runs strangle opponents. UNC had both kinds on their way to winningon Saturday night.

The second half consisted of three big runs. North Carolina started with a 12-4 spurt, went on an 11-0 explosion after the under-12 media stoppage, and then held on as Duke went on their own 10-0 run in the closing minutes. Not all runs, though, are equal, and not just in points. A few quick stats (free throws not included, unless specifically stated):

  • UNC’s 12-4 run to open the second half took exactly 2 minutes, 58 seconds. They were 5-8 for 12 points, and collected 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 0 turnovers. (Note: Remember this for later).
  • UNC’s 11-0 run after the under-12 media timeout took exactly 2 minutes, 25 seconds. They were 4-10 for 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists.
  • Duke’s 10-0 run took exactly 5 minutes, 58 seconds. Duke was 3-12 for 10 points, adding 15 rebounds (!!!), and 2 assists.
  • In the game's final 10:06, Duke was 3-20 from the field for exactly 12 points. Just 7 points were from field goals. The other 5 points were free throws.

So, UNC scored 23 points in a combined 5:23 of playing time. Duke scored 12 points in the final 10:06, including a 10-0 run in the closing minutes. When the shots weren't falling, North Carolina relied on stout defense to limit the damage.

Seniors Step Up

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at that opening sequence of the second half. On Senior Night, it was appropriate that Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, and Cameron Johnson would teach Duke’s freshmen a few lessons.

The 12-4 scoring spurt turned a 40-38 halftime deficit into a 50-44 Tar Heel lead. North Carolina never trailed again. Have a look.

Cam Coast to Coast

UNC’s defense was great, but they got some help from Duke’s offense. The key during this stretch was limiting Duke to one shot on multiple possessions.

Tre Jones comes off a pick-n-roll and decides he just wants to shoot a slightly contested mid-range jumper. A little more patience, and Javin DeLaurier had an opening on the roll. Credit to Kenny (surprise, surprise), with keeping Jones in front of him. One shot, and the possession is over. Cam gets the rebound...

… and immediately pushes the pace. Duke already has two players back in transition defense. Didn’t matter. Cam takes 4 dribbles, and uses his length for the lay-up. Tie game, 40-40.

Cam Pull-up

Next possession. Same result. This time, Jones fires a lightly contested three.

Wasn’t a bad look, but in ACC play Jones is 21% from 3. There’s a reason he was open. Another one shot possession. Kenny got the rebound....

...and hits Cam in stride. Getting into a rhythm with the fast pace, Cam finds the opening at the elbow. Nothing special. Cam Reddish didn’t look comfortable, and Cam exploits the gap without hesitation. Might as well be a lay-up. UNC leads 42-40

Cam Missed 3

Next trip, RJ Barrett decides he wants in on the action.

Kenny Williams doesn’t give an inch, and Barrett throws up a pull-up, fadeaway jumper. It hits the backboard and rolls of the rim. Maye grabs one of his 16 rebounds...

...and lets Coby bring it up. Coby followed the blueprint of UNC trying to attack all night long. This was another example, as Brooks beat his defender down the floor. Give credit to Brooks for gathering himself and giving the Heels a chance to score. (Cam missed the shot and Duke grabbed the rebound).

Maye’s 3

Reddish drew a foul, and converted 1 of 2 free throws. UNC held a 42-41 lead. Luke Maye wants to contribute.

An option out of the secondary break. Coby turns down the ball-screen and/or trail reversal. Maye sets a screen for Kenny on the wing, forcing Jack White to sag into the lane and prevent a curl. Maybe. I think. Not sure there is another explanation for giving Maye so much room on the perimeter. Maye drains it. UNC leads 45-41.

Maye Corner Jumper

RJ Barrett hit a three on the other end, cutting the lead to 45-44. This started to feel like one of those games where Duke was going to have an answer for everything. Instead, North Carolina changed the questions.

Maye receives a backscreen from Cam. There’s an opening down the paint because Reddish can’t help. If he does, Cam is wide open at the top of the key. Jack White is late getting through a screen. DeLaurier is late on the switch to Maye.

Maye catches, turns, and shoots in one motion from Kenny’s feed. He knew exactly where DeLaurier was and how much time he had to shoot. Duke probably prefers that shot to the close attempts from the first game, but Maye made them pay. UNC leads 47-44.

Kenny’s 3

Barrett comes off a screen. Kenny briefly gets stuck behind the screen. Instead of just trailing and hoping for help, Kenny recovers to beat Barrett to the spot on the floor.

This is fundamental defense at its absolute finest. An airball from 8 feet is followed by a missed put-back attempt by Jack White. Cam gets the board. North Carolina still holds a 47-44 lead.

Cam kept the ball after his rebound. He looks for a lane, but Duke is in solid enough position. Maye is wide open for the three-point attempt. Good look that just didn’t fall, but...

…Cam stays with the play. Kenny receives the tip-out, takes a second to survey the defense (or settle himself) and drains his third three of the night. Duke called a timeout. UNC leads 50-44.

Knockout Blows

If the first half was two fighters exchanging jabs in the early rounds, these few minutes were powerful hooks to the body by the Heels. Duke was stunned, against the ropes, trying to avoid the knockout punch. UNC had the momentum and knew it.

How pivotal were the seniors in this stretch?

The trio combined for 12 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 0 turnovers. (I told you to remember those numbers). Duke never regained the lead. The damage was done. In less than 3 minutes Kenny, Luke, and Cam took control on their last home game.

The knockdown combination came with 6:43 remaining. Kenny Williams connected on his fourth three-pointer after the Heels corralled three consecutive offensive rebounds. That capped the 11-0 run that gave the Heels a 75-60 lead. Per @DadgumBoxscores, here’s that entire sequence.

After that, Duke was just trying to win on points and technicalities. That almost never works out well in a major fight. For fun, here's some game-sealing defense from Maye and Kenny with two huge blocks.

When it was over, North Carolina solidified a piece of their fifth regular season ACC Championship this decade and swept Duke for the first time since 2008-2009.

None of it happens without Luke, Kenny, and Cam.

Senior. Leadership. Matters.

And they aren’t done yet.