We’ve seen North Carolina beat ranked teams before only to disappoint a few days later, but with this win over an overrated but still #5 Duke, it feels like it’s part of a positive process making the Tar Heels one of the more intriguing teams to look at as the NCAA Tournament draws nearer.
Obviously, rivalry games bring out the best from certain teams, and North Carolina looked to get that kind of push from the occasion, fueled by Duke possibly doing all that it could to postpone the previous game, citing weather as the issue.
Duke dominated the game early through Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker, but when a team entirely based on shooting goes cold turkey during the second half, it was only a matter of time before North Carolina came fighting back, with Marcus Paige leading the charge.
Quinn Cook missed a wide open 3-point shot with Duke up by two points late in the second half, and the Tar Heels tied the game at 60, and went to outscore Duke 14-6 in the final four minutes of the game, winning 74-66 as Marcus Paige went into unstoppable mode while his teammates crashed the offensive boards in another example of Duke’s disappearing interior defense.
I’m not going to say we’re a finished product because we’ve got games left but man, we’re playing really well right now and we’re winning games in a lot of different ways. It was a bunch of guys that fought really hard and I couldn’t be prouder of my team than I am right now.
So while Duke got points from their three stars: Parker with 17 points (and 11 rebounds), Rodney Hood with 16 and Quinn Cook with 17 off the bench, they all came a bit too soon, and an awful shooting night from Rasheed Suliamon and overall from beyond the arc (5-of-22) gave North Carolina enough opportunities to come fighting back and eventually find the right offensive and energetic combination, proving too much for their rivals.
Leslie McDonald led North Carolina with 21 points, while Marcus Paige scored 13 and James Michael McAdoo added 10 with 10 rebounds, including 4 offensive. North Carolina had 15 offensive rebounds but their biggest improvement from first to second half was cutting the turnovers. Duke outscored North Carolina 18-3 in points off turnovers in the first half, but North Carolina didn’t allow a single point off a turnover in the second half. They rebounded well, not allowing Duke a second-chance field goal after halftime until the garbage time began. They also were able to keep Jabari Parker from touching the ball during a five minute stretch, limiting him to only four points in the paint during the second half.
We looked tired or we didn’t have life. nd no matter what we did in a timeout, we just didn’t have that spark — the anger, the emotion, the thing you have to have to match what their crowd, their team is doing. You have to try to counter that. And I just felt we were, we didn’t have the life that you needed to have.
North Carolina have now beaten all four preseason AP top 4 teams, the first team to accomplish that. Like Duke, they’re on a four-games in eight days stretch due to the postponement, but at least they don’t have to deal with Syracuse on their next game.