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Beyond the Arc: Duke basketball vs. North Carolina

In an instant classic, No. 4 Duke overcame a seven-point deficit with 1:35 remaining in regulation to defeat No. 15 North Carolina 92-90 in overtime Wednesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. After Blue Devil freshman Jahlil Okafor departed late in the first half due to an ankle injury, he never returned to top form, but the Tar Heels' stingy second-half defense ran out of steam just in time for Tyus Jones to go on a spurt that sent the game into overtime and put Duke in the driver’s seat for a home win.

Revisiting the three keys to the game:

  • Crash the boards: Amazingly, the Blue Devils held the team with the seventh-most offensive boards per game in the country to zero offensive rebounds in the first 11:31 of the game. Duke—not coincidentally, and with the help of tremendous outside shooting— opened up a 30-22 lead during the stretch. In fact, the Blue Devils did not falter in the rebound department nearly as much as it may have appeared—with North Carolina winning the battle of the boards by a slim 49-46 margin—thanks largely to strong effort to close the game. Still, the Tar Heels grabbed 40 percent of their misses for the game and controlled much of the contest thanks to their edge on the glass.
  • Win the backcourt battle: Duke did not simply win this key to the game. Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones absolutely torched Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson, with the Blue Devil duo outscoring the North Carolina tandem 44-7. Cook and Jones were the standouts for Duke, and were just as important to the victory as were the uncharacteristically weak performances from Paige and Jackson—who shot a combined 3-of-19 from the field.
  • Maintain composure: The Blue Devils did just this, not only at the beginning of the game—starting strong after stepping onto the biggest stage they’ve played on all season—but also, and most importantly, at the end of the game. With each possession seemingly a do-or-die situation, Justise Winslow reeled Duke closer in with two foul shots, a 3-pointer, and momentum-turning two-handed slam, followed by a performance from Jones that was one of the most clutch in recent Duke basketball memory. At the same time, North Carolina did not keep its composure, blowing a late lead by missing several key free throws and throwing the ball away with more than a minute left.

Three key plays:

  • 3:41, first half: Jahlil Okafor’s ankle injury may be even more important to the team in the days ahead than any confidence boost from the win. Okafor misses a jumper and sprains his left ankle by falling on Joel James’ foot while coming down. Though he comes back into the game just three minutes later to a standing ovation, the ankle-taped freshman did not look like himself the rest of the night. He went just 1-3 from the field in the second half and finished the game shooting 0-for-6 on foul shots, simply lacking the same inside presence that he usually commands.
  • 0:29, second half: Tyus Jones was the reason the Blue Devils came back in this wild finish. He scores Duke’s final nine points in regulation, but it would have amounted to nothing without his layup with the game clock showing 27 seconds on a play that seems a little anticlimactic. Rather than attempting to win the game with a three or chucking up an ill-advised fade away as is so often the case in do-or-die situations, Jones shows poise as he finds an open lane and converts a layup after a Winslow pick. This play seals a seven-point Duke comeback in less than a minute.
  • 1:14, overtime: For much of the second half, Duke could not stop North Carolina’s offense, with the Tar Heels scoring on five straight possessions to take their first lead and later on five of six possessions to blow open an eight point lead. The Blue Devils' defense buckled down, however, and it culminates in a pivotal stop with 1:14 left in overtime. It seems—with North Carolina having scored on three of its past four possessions— that the game will come down to whoever has the last shot. However, on this play, Duke forces a Nate Britt miss, giving it the ball and firm control late.

Three keys stats:

  • Duke shoots 10-for-16 from 3-point range compared to North Carolina’s 2-of-10 clip: Give credit to Quinn Cook, who started the game shooting 4-of-5 from downtown and would finish 6-of-9 from behind the arc, but also credit Jahlil Okafor’s inside presence. He forced the Tar Heels to double-team him, resulting in open looks for a group that has died by the sword and—as evidenced by Wednesday's game—also lives by it.
  • North Carolina commits 26 fouls compared to 16 for the Blue Devils: Both teams struggled from the foul line in the contest, with Duke shooting a woeful 51.6 percent and the Tar Heels shooting a marginally-better 60 percent from the charity stripe. Still, the Blue Devils managed to take 11 more foul shots than North Carolina, ultimately converting four more in a thrilling contest that featured eight lead changes and was as down to the wire as any challenge Duke has had this season.
  • Blue Devils outrebound the Tar Heels 7-0 to close out the final 3:22 of the second half: Duke thrived in this game at the beginning of the first half and the end of the second half—and what those two time intervals also have in common is that North Carolina did not get a single offensive rebound. Winslow and Jones combined to shoot 5-of-6 from the field in the last 3:12 of a game hanging in the balance and the Blue Devils made several key plays on both ends to escape with a magical win. The sequence featured aggressive defense, scrappy play to come up with loose balls and the heart that makes the rivalry the best college basketball has to offer.

And the Duke game ball goes to… Tyus Jones

Jones once again stepped up on the biggest of stages, as the Apple Valley, Minn., native stole the show with 22 points, eight assists and seven assists. Jones also posted a 6-of-7 free throw rate, much better than the combined 10-of-24 free throw outing from his teammates. Jones’ scoring the last nine points in regulation, simply put, saved the game for Duke. He not only made shots, he made difficult shots in traffic, showing composure and controlling the tempo for the Blue Devils, who were able to use their small lineup to gut out the win thanks to the play of their point guard.

And the North Carolina game ball goes to… Brice Johnson

Considering he only played 24 minutes, Johnson played spectacularly in this contest, making up for a weak Tar Heel backcourt effort with 18 points on 7-10 shooting, five offensive rebounds and 12 total rebounds. It was quite unfortunate for North Carolina, then, that Johnson fouled out in overtime and had to watch his team lose from the bench. A Tar Heel win could have rejuvenated a team that has now lost four of its last five, but it will have to wait until March 7 for a chance at revenge against its Tobacco Road rival.

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