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UNC vs. Duke: Three Things Learned

Let’s discuss the Heels shocking the world with their inspired performance against the Blue Devils.

North Carolina v Duke Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

I still can’t believe that I’m typing this, but the Tar Heels went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and ruined Coach K’s Curtain Call by taking down Duke 94-81. For all of the ups and downs of the regular season, the Heels came out hungrier, more focused, and overall just the better team than the Blue Devils, despite the roles being reversed when these two teams faced off in the Dean Dome. It is a win that will be remembered for the rest of our lives, and while that sounds dramatic, I don’t know that it could be anymore dramatic than ESPN’s all day coverage of Coach K’s career. Seriously, I couldn’t be more dramatic if I tried.

I digress, let’s discuss three big takeaways from last night’s huge win.

Group Effort

Usually whenever UNC and Duke face off, there is a star that emerges from the game as someone that you can point to and say, “You were the difference maker in this game.” When it comes to last night’s game, there wasn’t just one guy who stood out: it was four. That’s right: Armando Bacot, Brady Manek, Caleb Love, and RJ Davis all scored 20+ points in the win over the Blue Devils, which is the first time that has ever happened in Carolina basketball history.

The best part of this stat is that what they were able to do against Duke goes beyond how many points they scored, and each player played their own unique role. RJ Davis was excellent whenever he was the facilitator, Brady Manek may have had the defensive performance of his life, Armando Bacot survived foul trouble and made things difficult for Mark Williams and Paolo Banchero, and Caleb Love went 12-12 from the free throw line. Oh, and don’t think I’m going to leave out Leaky Black, who was not only excellent on defense as always, but added six points, five assists, and three rebounds to his box score.

While at times it has felt like this team wasn’t turning a corner, the Heels have low-key won 11 of their last 13 games, ended the regular season 8-3 on the road (7-3 in ACC play), and are currently on a four-game win streak. Say what you will about how the season has gone, but this team has shown a tremendous amount of toughness as the season has progressed, and they just might surprise us in the postseason.

Turning the Tide

Let’s take a moment and discuss the toughness aspect of this team, because I think it’s easy to lose sight on just how huge last night’s game was. When Duke visited the Dean Smith Center last month, UNC crumbled from the very beginning. They looked lost, they looked sloppy, and though they eventually started to show some fight, the Blue Devils were just too much to deal with. It was really hard to see how the Heels could possibly go into Cameron and beat them, because what it boiled down to is that Duke is just too talented. Paolo Banchero and A.J. Griffin are elite players, and really the entire starting lineup could find their way into the NBA.

However, last night none of that mattered. UNC played the best basketball they’ve played all season, and they played like a team that had something to prove to the entire country. A.J Griffin was locked down all night by Leaky Black, ending the game with just five points after dropping 27 on the Heels in the first game. Paolo Banchero had 23 points, but I’ve seen much better performances from him. Truly the best player last night for the Blue Devils was Mark Williams, who went 8-11 from the field and had 13 rebounds.

The best representation of just how tough the Heels were last night, however, was what they did in the second half. After only shooting 38% from the field in the first half, UNC caught fire and shot at a 59.4% clip in the second. When it comes to defense, Duke was able to make 58% of their shots in the first half, but UNC clamped down and held them to just 42.1% in the second. This team has grown a lot since their first game in this heated rivalry, last night was their reward for all of their blood, sweat, and tears.

Coach K’s Parting Gifts

It has been brought to my attention that there was some hurt feelings that UNC didn’t present Coach K with a present when he visited Chapel Hill for the last time. While I’m not able to confirm this information, I personally find the idea that anybody would be upset by that fact amusing to say the least. We have never seen anybody retire from college basketball in the manner that Coach K has, and while he says he has his reasons, it has been really hard to not view this season as him performing Freebird for his encore performance…five times in a row.

Sure, UNC did not give Coach K any gifts, but that didn’t stop him from presenting Tar Heel Nation with some gifts before he rode off into the sunset. Let’s unwrap them, shall we?

  • As mentioned earlier, four Tar Heels scored 20+ points for the first time in Carolina history.
  • With last night’s win, the Heels are now the third seed in the ACC Tournament.
  • Last night’s win was also a Quad 1 win against a top-five team, and should lock in their automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
  • With Caleb Love’s 12 made free throws and zero misses, he is now the all-time best free throw shooter in Carolina History. ***Note: this can change before the season is over, or if he stays with the team past this season.
  • Hubert Davis is 1-0 against Coach K in Cameron Indoor Stadium as a head coach, but also when combining his playing career, will hold a 7-6 overall record if these two teams don’t play again in the ACC Tournament.
  • Joining Hubert Davis in the 1-0 club in Cameron are: Brady Manek, Justin McKoy, Dontrez Styles, D’Marco Dunn, and inactive freshman Will Shaver.
  • Caleb Love, RJ Davis, and Puff Johnson are now 2-0 in Cameron Indoor.
  • Leaky Black beat his former teammate Wendell Moore in what could have been Black’s final game in Durham (Both players are eligible for a fifth season).
  • Dean Smith, Roy Williams, and Hubert Davis all won their final games against Coach K.
  • Finally…this happened.

In all seriousness, I wanted to take a brief moment and point out just how insane this rivalry has been. UNC as a program holds a 49-50 record against Coach K-led Duke teams, and UNC has a chance to make it a 50/50 split next week if both teams make it to the ACC championship round. This has truly been, and always will be, the greatest rivalry of sports, and Duke’s Hall of Fame coach will forever be remembered as a key part of it. Thank you for the memories, Coach K, but more than anything: thank you for the parting gifts.

Go Heels!