With Virginia already clinching the ACC title for a second straight season, the only thing Duke and North Carolina had to play for was the meaning of their rivalry, which is quite a lot, even when isolated from other implications. For the second time this season and third in a row, the Blue Devils came out on top, winning 84-77.
This has definitely been a Duke-dominated series over the last five years. North Carolina hadn’t headed into the game with the advantage in terms of rankings since 2009. Since the beginning of 2010, including one meeting in the ACC tournament, Duke have won 10 of the 13 meetings, including scraping by in overtime last month. On this occasion, at the Dean Smith, it was a little bit easier.
Not too easy. North Carolina led by two points at half time and opened up a seven point lead in the second half. However, turnovers allowed Duke to go on a 14-2 run (11 second half turnovers), before Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook came to life and erased any chance North Carolina had to get back in the game.
Jones finished the game with 24 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists, establishing himself as the team’s key player over the last couple of months and heading into the win-or-go-home part of the season. He’s the first Duke player to record 20 points and 7 assists in each of his two games in this rivalry. He scored or assisted on 48% of Duke’s points in the win, getting a lot of help from Quinn Cook who scored 20 points, followed by Jahlil Okafor with 14 points and Justise Winslow with 13.
Marcus Paige was fantastic for the Tar Heels with 23 points, Brice Johnson helped out with 17 and Justin Jackson scored 14 points off the bench. But North Carolina couldn’t avoid their 10th loss of the season as they were held to just 28 points in the paint and six second-chance points. A big team that relies on dominance near the rim, the Tar Heels struggle when they can’t get Johnson, Meeks and Tokoto easy points in the paint.
So while Duke, #3 in the nation, assert themselves as one of the teams to watch out for heading into the ACC and later the NCAA tournament, hopefully this time ready for anything thrown at them, even if it’s going to be an experienced team, North Carolina lose 10 games at least in three consecutive seasons, something that hasn’t happened since the 1950s under Frank McGuire, going 11-7 in the ACC and probably falling out of the top 20 when the next set of rankings come out.