Even in a season that has been as weird as this one, there’s nothing quite like Carolina closing out the year with a dominant performance against Duke. The Tar Heels got the better of the Blue Devils in both their meetings this season with Senior Night for UNC’s guys going as well as anyone could have asked for with a 91-73 win.
Carolina was all over Duke from the opening tip. They cruised out to a big lead early and the game never really felt in danger from there. Duke did manage to surge at the end of the first half, as we’ve seen in this rivalry so many times before, but the Heels were able withstand the storm and keep a healthy lead.
Armando Bacot, Kerwin Walton, and Caleb Love led the way for Carolina with 18 points each. Walton hit four threes, Love had seven assists, and Bacot was the team’s leading rebounder with six. In his final game in the Dean Dome, Garrison Brooks scored 14 points despite twisting his ankle on his opponent’s foot in the early going. Outside of the four players in double figures, it was great to see KJ Smith and Sterling Manley (!!!) score two points each late when Roy Williams emptied the bench to get his seniors a standing ovation.
Despite the fact that Duke was able to own Carolina in the paint, scoring 44 of their points there, the Heels were slightly better on the boards, out-rebounding the Blue Devils 38-31. Duke shot poorly from beyond the arch, making just 19% of their shots from distance. Matthew Hurt was kept in check in the first half before picking things up to ultimately score 14 points in the game, but that is just fine considering the kind of tear he has been on to buoy Duke as of late.
The Heels assisted on 21 of their 31 field goals. Yes, turnovers were still an issue as the Heels gave it away 20 times leading to 23 points for the Blue Devils, but it was at least mitigated some by the fact that Duke was pretty careless with the ball too, turning it over 15 times. Neither team was able to do much with limited rebounds on the offensive glass, though, which is one place Carolina has excelled all season. In this game, though, they were only able to turn their misses into eight points. Rebounding was better on the defensive glass with UNC besting Duke 30 to 19.
For a team that has been hard to predict all season, this was a very sweet ending to the regular season. It’s unclear what momentum means when you have such up and down results, but you can’t argue with heading into the ACC Tournament on a dominant note. It was great to see Brooks have a strong Senior Night showing after all of his struggles this year.
Carolina will be the six seed in Greensboro next week, playing the winner of Notre Dame and Wake Forest in the second round on Wednesday.