Duke beat North Carolina Thursday night 71-70, and they did it their way. Executing defensive pressure on every Tar Heel possession, the No. 7 Blue Devils kept No. 2 UNC's offense at bay, all the way until the final play
They did it. Duke beat North Carolina Thursday night 71-70, and they did it their way.
Executing defensive pressure on every Tar Heel possession, the Blue Devils kept No. 2 UNC’s offense at bay, limiting the nation’s highest-scoring team to 22 points below its season average. Meanwhile, No. 7 Duke saved its most well-rounded offensive game of the season for its most suspenseful, as every player with more than one minute on the court scored.
But the Blue Devils (18-2, 8-2 in the ACC) were playing one of the most talented teams in the country. The Tar Heels (19-3, 8-2), fighting from behind for most of the game, chiseled away at the leads Duke created to stay within reach until they ran into a wall on the game’s final play.
“This was a game befitting this rivalry between two great programs,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Their guys played their hearts out and so did we. It came down to one possession, and our defense was great.
“This was a heck of a basketball game.”
With five minutes remaining in the game, J.J. Redick sank a fadeaway three-pointer that left him on the ground and put Duke ahead by nine. Cameron Indoor Stadium rumbled with cheers, as 9,314 fans felt the shot would be the last nail in the coffin. But UNC’s Raymond Felton and Sean May thought otherwise and were able to cut the lead to a single point with 18 seconds left and possession of the ball.
May inbounded to Felton while the rest of the Tar Heels set up three options for the point guard. Guarding Felton, Daniel Ewing reached for the ball, and his momentum cleared the lane. Felton looked to his teammates, but Shelden Williams and Redick anticipated passes to May and Rashad McCants. Felton dished to David Noel coming off the baseline, but Noel fumbled the ball out of bounds before UNC could put up a final shot.
“It seemed like a long time, and I was just hoping that that clock went down before they got a shot off,” DeMarcus Nelson said of the last possession. “We played some great defense.... We made them try to do something that they weren’t ready for.”
Nelson, who averages just six points per game, provided the Blue Devils the extra offensive impact they needed for the win, Krzyzewski said. The freshman’s 16 points off the bench, one shy of his career high, was the team’s second-highest total of the game.
“It was obvious that DeMarcus just played at a level—or even a couple of levels—higher than he’s played,” Krzyzewski said. “A lot of times, in games like this, really good players cancel each other out because they’re playing so hard, and somebody else steps up. DeMarcus did that.”
Equally impressive to his offense, Nelson’s defensive performance contributed to Duke’s overall effort in keeping North Carolina from running up the score. Nelson claimed four of the team’s 17 steals, second only to Shelden Williams’ five.
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“We can’t have 10 assists and 23 turnovers and be the kind of basketball team we want to be,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said. “At the same time, their pressure bothered us.”
Just as the Blue Devils were able to contain parts of the Tar Heel offense, UNC was able to keep Duke’s “big three” relatively quiet. May kept Shelden Williams to just 11 points and gathered twice as many rebounds as his counterpart. May also scored a game-high 23 points, 15 in a second half in which he revived North Carolina early and helped them survive late.
As in every Duke-UNC game, the home crowd ignited the intensity for the players and coaches alike. Before walking off the court at the game’s end, Krzyzewski took a moment to salute the Cameron Crazies, lifting his arms and pointing to the bleacher filled with blue bodies.
Nelson said the volume and intensity of the crowd gave him goosebumps at times during Wednesday’s thriller.
“They really brought out the best in us,” Nelson said. “At times, when we got tired and would want to let up, our crowd and our student base wouldn’t let us let up, and that’s what we need.”
Redick reached double figures for the 19th time this season.... Redick’s 18-point showing snapped his string of seven straight games scoring 20 or more points.... Ewing left the game with 4:42 remaining due to cramps in his right calf.... Williams became the first player in Duke history to record five steals and five blocked shots in a single game.... Williams is now tied for 14th place on the ACC’s all-time blocked shots list with 239 career rejections.... North Carolina still leads the all-time series, 123-95.... Duke’s streak of four top-flight opponents in two and a half weeks comes to a close Saturday afternoon when the Blue Devils travel to College Park and take on the Maryland Terrapins, who won in Cameron Indoor Stadium Jan. 26, 75-66.