Much was made of this being the first North Carolina-Duke game in years where neither team was ranked in the top 25. However, that doesn’t mean that the rivalry couldn’t produce dramatics.
The teams played down to the wire again, with UNC coming away from Durham with a four-point win. The Tar Heels threatened to pull away a couple times, but every time they did, Duke battled back. It’s nothing less than you would expect from a game in this legendary series.
With round one in the books and UNC putting a notch in the win column, what did we learn in Carolina’s 91-87 win.
Consistency from Caleb?
Caleb Love’s struggles this season have often been a topic of conversation, but he was genuinely good on Saturday. No qualifiers, no grading on a curve, he was just straight up really, really good. Love finished with 25 points on 9-16 shooting (4-5 from three), seven assists, two rebounds, and a steal. He also made a bit of Tar Heel history:
Caleb Love scored 25 points tonight.— Bryan Ives (@awaytoworthy) February 7, 2021
That is tied for the most points ever by a North Carolina freshman in his first career game against Duke. (Raymond Felton)
That was by far his best performance of the season. If most of the rest of his season had even like 50% of that, things would be so different. You cannot expect a performance like that every game. However, if we can get something resembling it a little more often from Love, UNC’s ceiling is way higher.
Where was the bench?
Watching the game, it was fairly evident that the Tar Heels were the better team. Yet, it went down to the final minutes and if it weren’t for Leaky Black knocking down his final free throws, the tone and tenor of this post may be way different. A big part of the reason the game was close is that they got very little from most of the bench.
Day’Ron Sharpe was pretty good, giving Carolina 11 points and nine rebounds. That accounts for nearly all of the production from the Heels’ bench. In total, UNC’s reserves accounted for 14 points on 6-19 shooting. Take away Sharpe, and that drops to three points on 1-14 shooting.
In the first half, Black picked up his third foul with a little under eight minutes left. He exited the game with UNC up seven. Over the rest of the half, Duke outscored Carolina by five. A lead that was as high as 10 points was just two at the break.
The Heels again came out firing in the second half, and went up 12 seven minutes into the second. As UNC tried to give their starters rest, Duke was again able to cut into the lead. Four minutes after going up 12, it was back down to three points.
There’s always going to be a drop off from the starters in most games, otherwise the people on the bench would be starting. However, it was a very steep one on Saturday. If the bench is even 20% better, we would’ve all been exhaling way earlier than the final buzzer.
Duke is bad
Never take any win in Cameron for granted, and maybe the figure some things out down the stretch. That being said: yikes.
UNC managed to score 28 points off 15 Duke turnovers. They shot 53% from the floor, including 67% from three. Part of that was due to UNC playing well and clearly being up for the game. It also came from a team that scored 50 points on 39% shooting with 17 turnovers just a couple days ago. Good on UNC for taking advantage, but they got some help
With their loss, Duke is .500 both overall and in ACC play. As of right now, they wouldn’t be particularly close to the NCAA Tournament bubble. You hate to see it. (You don’t)