Here’s how North Carolina’s first seven posessions went on Sunday : miss, turnover, turnover, miss, miss, missmissturnover, miss. And Duke ? They hit their first 4 shots.
That about sums it up folks.
Well, not really, but the fact is that the energy/passion differential was so evident at the outset of this game, that friends of mine who know diddly about basketball have remarked to me that they could see that UNC was in for a long day on the ropes from the get go. They were right.
Basically, the Tar Heels came out exactly like they had in the previous 2 games (flat and droopy as a fried egg on a nail) and fell behind by double digits inthe first half. The only difference was they were facing a good team;one that wasn’t going to fold under pressure, one that wouldn’t let Harrison Barnes go apeshit, and one that couldn’t be bothered by the highly partisan Carolina crowd (who got to spend most of this game sitting on their wine and cheese stained hands. What unalloyed joy!) Personally, I thought Kendall Marshall looked a step slow in the Clemson game, and two hard fought comeback wins plus an overtime period the day before did nothing to improve his condition. He was completely ineffective in the first half of this game and actually went to the bench pretty darn early (whether because of his play or because Ol’ Roy was trying to save him for the second half, we’ll never know). Nolan Smith had a lot to do with this and was inside KM’s jersey from the start. Kyle did an equally brilliant job on defense, limiting Barnes to 2 points in the first half, as these two effectively neutralized each other, which, given how Barnes has been completely carrying the Heels of late, was a win for Duke. Duke’s defense was utterly stifling thoughout the game, holding UNC to just 33% shooting and 30% in the first half. Miles was especially effective in doubling Barnes when he brought the ball inside, and he and Mason ( and Ryan) held Carolina’s big man tandem to just 9-26 shooting. This is particularly impressive when you consider that Henson led the ACC in FG % and Zeller was in the top 10.
On offense for Duke it was a fantastic, confidence-inspiring, absolute team effort as the Devils got significant contributions from everyone who played significant minutes, which was really the story of the tournament. Nolan and Kyle were an unimpressive 11-32, but the rest of the team shot an astonishing 18-26 and hit big, BIG shots when it mattered. In the 3 games that ended Duke’s regular season, when things seemed to be headed in exactly the wrong direction, everyone not named Singler, Smith or Curry put up the following total points : 13, 20, and 9. In the 3 games of the ACC tournament they scored 30, 27, and 33. When that happens, Duke wins. Andre has his confidence back. Ryan is focused on defense and hitting shots. Mason is steady and dependable And someone apparently slipped Miles Plumlee the formula for the Zoubek tonic, as he came hurtling to Duke’s aid with some truly inspired play and was named second team all-tournament. ( now, how many of you saw that coming?)
Coach K said after the game that his team lacked a spark in the final weeks of the season, but had a truly great week of practice, and the spark was there. I think it’s one of his finest coaching moments, personally, as it felt like this team was as on-the-brink as a Duke team can get. Not any more.
Oh, and on a final note, there really is no sweeter place in the world than a coliseum full of sad, quiet Carolina fans. It’s just a little slice of heaven.