CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—Duke got off to a hot start and never looked back.
Trying for their first road win against the upper echelon of the ACC, the No. 3 Blue Devils made a statement at the Dean E. Smith Center Saturday night by defeating North Carolina 69-53.
“Duke’s defense was stronger than our offense was, and Duke’s offense was stronger than our defense was,” said North Carolina head coach Roy Williams. Duke (27-4, 14-4 in the ACC) scored the game’s first 14 points on a blistering 6-of-7 shooting from the field. The Tar Heels (22-9, 12-6), by comparison, didn’t hit a single field goal until after the first media time out.
“We were more ready for their smaller lineup,” senior forward Mason Plumlee said of his team’s defensive effort. “I thought we did a good job defending the three and their guys just didn’t make as many shots as they’re capable of.”
Senior guard Seth Curry carried the torch offensively for the Blue Devils in the first half. Curry ultimately finished the half with 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting. Injured leg and all, Curry opened the game a perfect 7-for-7 from the floor—including a nifty shot he made from a virtually seated position.
“When I’m hot like that and I get off to a good start, I just try to find the next shot,” Curry said. “I feel like if I find the next shot and I get it off clean, it’s going to go in.” While Curry was scoring at will for Duke, James Michael McAdoo was the only Tar Heel to provide any sort of offense. It took nearly seven and a half minutes for someone other than McAdoo to score for North Carolina, and more than nine minutes before a different Tar Heel made a field goal.
Junior forward Reggie Bullock—who averages 14.4 points per game—was held scoreless by the Duke defense in the first half. Bullock’s struggles can be traced back to surprise starter Tyler Thornton.
“I think Bullock is one of the best players in the country, not just the conference,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We needed somebody who was going to try to make him work and hopefully make it a little bit more difficult for him, and Tyler had that assignment.”
The second half was very much the same story for the Blue Devils, only with a different senior captain shouldering the load. With Curry facing increased defensive pressure, Plumlee went to work in the paint, taking advantage of an undersized North Carolina frontcourt.
“Ryan really exploded the last two games so I knew I was going to have touches inside,” Plumlee said. “Then obviously they started a smaller lineup, so we knew that would be there at some point in the game.”
Plumlee scored the first 10 points of the half for Duke, easily besting McAdoo on the low block. The ACC Player of the Year candidate finished the game with another double-double, posting 23 points and 13 rebounds.
“That was a man’s half,” Krzyzewski said. “Mason was unbelievable—superb—in that second half.”
Curry ended the game with 20 points, and Quinn Cook was the only other Blue Devil in double digits with 12 points.
Despite the lopsided score, North Carolina never quit. The Tar Heels kept the pressure on Duke defensively, causing a stretch of more than seven minutes without a field goal for the Blue Devils before Cook’s floater stopped the bleeding. Offensively North Carolina’s wings found their shots in the second half. With 5:00 to play in the game, sophomore P.J. Hairston—who’s in the midst of his best stretch of basketball—connected with his first 3-pointer of the game to cut the Duke lead to 14. But that was the only Tar Heel 3-pointer of the game as they finished 1-of-14 from deep.
“At the six, seven-minute mark I really thought we still had a chance,” Williams said. “P.J. made that three…but we didn’t get stops the next two possessions.”
That ultimately was as close as North Carolina would come to catching the Blue Devils.
“It was a good, solid win, and it’s the kind of win we needed going into tournament time,” Plumlee said.