If there were ever a time for UNC to show up at its best, tonight was it. The deck was stacked against them with all of the fanfare in Cameron Indoor for Coach K’s final game, but the Tar Heels never gave up from the tip to the final horn for a 94-81 win. Playing spoiler on this night of all nights just feels extra sweet.
You really cannot say enough about the job the starters did in this game. With the exception of Armando Bacot, who had to sit for large chunks of the first half because of foul trouble, they had to shoulder the load for nearly all 40 minutes. Bacot’s presence was sorely missed when he was out, and the play on the floor suffered terribly without him.
Four of the five starters finished with at least 20 points with Bacot leading the way with 23. He finished just ahead of Caleb Love with 22, RJ Davis with 21, and Brady Manek with 20. Manek was the lone Tar Heel to finish with double figure rebounds. Love scored 15 of his points in the second half. Leaky Black was instrumental as always defensively, helping to hold Duke to 42% from the field in the second half.
Carolina got cooked in the paint with Bacot out and then playing cautiously to avoid further foul trouble. Despite the fact that it seemed like the ref crew had it out for Bacot and Puff Johnson, particularly, in the first half, the free throw discrepancy was steep: UNC made 19 of their 22 shots from the line, Duke made six of their eight attempts. UNC was also very good at protecting the ball, turning it over just five times all game.
For all of the talk this season about Carolina’s focus and intensity, they sure as hell showed up tonight. They raced out to a 9-2 run, and even when they fell behind because Bacot was out or the defense softened up, they managed to get right back up and fight. In the game in Chapel Hill, the team made a run at Duke to close out the first half before folding up in the early minutes of the second. It was similar in this game when UNC fought to go to the locker room down just two at the half. In this game, however, clawed back to keep to close before ultimately pulling away. The game was tied at 61-61 with just under nine minutes to go and UNC led the rest of the way.
Winners of 11 of their last 13 games, UNC is playing their best at the right time. They have clung to the bubble for weeks, having multiple games be do-or-die for their NCAA Tournament hopes. This Quad 1 win should put them solidly in the field if they weren’t already. I don’t know that many people thought they had this in them, present company included, but what a way for them to show they have what it takes.
UNC’s next game will be in the ACC Tournament following their double-bye as one of the top four seeds.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be watching tape of people who mortgaged their children’s college funds to attend this game crying on live television.