Duke was able to get to the line consistently, but struggled to convert once it got there.

Beyond the arc: Despite win, Duke's free throw shooting a major concern

After being dead in the water in the first half, Duke rallied in the second half to down archrival and No. 9 North Carolina 74-64 to split the season series. The Blue Zone gives three key stats and takeaways from Saturday's win and looks forward for the Bleu Devils: 

Three key takeaways

1. Free throws are a problem

Even though Duke came away with the win, it nearly shot itself in the foot with abysmal free throw shooting. The Blue Devils shot just 9-of-20 from the line and missed the front end of multiple one-and-ones. Duke is 212th in the country in free throw percentage, a remarkably poor mark. 

Making free throws is absolutely crucial to success in March—this poor performance at the line in such an important game doesn’t bode well going forward.

2. Impressive defensive performance

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski has now fully committed to the zone and his decision seems to have paid off. Duke has been on a great run defensively and had allowed just 54.4 points per game in the five games leading up to Saturday night. 

The Blue Devils made multiple highlight reel plays on defense and finished the night with 12 steals and 8 blocks. The zone isn’t perfect, but having capable defense means the offense has a larger margin of error.

3. A tale of two halves

Duke’s offense really struggled for long stretches in the first half. During the first 20 minutes, the Blue Devils made just 1-of-10 3-point attempts, were 4-of-14 from the line and scored just 25 points. 

But faced by a 13-point deficit, Duke’s offense finally came alive in the second half. Led by Marvin Bagley's 18 second-half points, the Blue Devils dropped 49 points on the Tar Heels in the second half. In the final 14 minutes, Duke scored on 16 of their 24 possessions and made 8-of-12 three pointers.

When its offense is clicking, Duke is almost impossible to beat. But it will have to be more consistent if it wants to make a deep March run. 

Three key stats

1. Blue Devils win the battle of the boards

Duke and North Carolina entered the game as the two best rebounding teams in the ACC. In the last matchup, the Tar Heels won the rebounding battle and came away with the victory in large part due to their 20 offensive boards. Duke flipped the script this time around, coming away with more rebounds on both ends of the court. Carter and Bagley were especially active, combining for 11 offensive rebounds. 

2. Six points in a quiet night for Berry 

Joel Berry II was instrumental for the Tar Heels in their win over the Blue Devils in February, but last night, he was nowhere to be found. Berry was just 3-of-11 from the field and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts. He even tossed up an airball early in the game that the student section didn’t let him forget. 

3. Duval's six assists and zero turnovers

Duval has had a very up-and-down season thus far, but he stepped up big Saturday night in Cameron. He helped key Duke’s second-half resurgence, breaking down the Carolina defense and feeding teammates for easy shots. 

Duval finished the night with a team-high six assists and zero turnovers for the first time since November. His efficient performance from the field and active defense—two steals and a block—was enough to overcome his poor performance at the line. 

Looking forward

After committing to a zone, it looks like the Blue Devils have finally managed to stabilize their defense. Duke boasts one of the deepest and most talented rosters in college basketball, but they have been prone to struggle for extended stretches on both ends of the court. The second-half Duke team is capable of winning a title, but the first-half team clearly isn't. 

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