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'A different animal:' Marvin Bagley III's second-half eruption fuels Blue Devil comeback

<p>Marvin Bagley III attacked the basket relentlessly in the second half, racking up a double-double in the final 20 minutes alone with 18 points and 11 rebounds.</p>

Marvin Bagley III attacked the basket relentlessly in the second half, racking up a double-double in the final 20 minutes alone with 18 points and 11 rebounds.

Staring down the barrel of a double-digit deficit, Duke entered the locker room desperately needing an offensive lift.

When the Blue Devils emerged 10 minutes later, it was “animal time.”

After just three first-half points and two fouls in the game’s opening stanza, Marvin Bagley III erupted for a dominant performance in Saturday’s final 20 minutes, finishing Duke’s 74-64 victory against North Carolina with 21 points and 15 rebounds. In one four-minute stretch, the star freshman racked up eight points and six boards, four of them offensive, as the Blue Devils surged from seven down to eventually take control of the contest.

And on a senior night that was supposed to belong to Grayson Allen, Duke’s captain even found himself in awe of his rookie teammate’s late-game onslaught.

“Sometimes you get used to it, but I try not to because some of it is just so incredible,” Allen said of Bagley. “The most amazing thing to me is his second, third and fourth jump being just about as high as his first one, and there was a play where I think he shot it twice and then the third one, he just went right back up and dunked it like he had a full head of steam going. His athleticism and his vertical right under there, even in traffic, are just incredible.”

For both Bagley and fellow first-year big man Wendell Carter Jr., it was a struggle for much of the first half. Both picked up a pair of fouls before the five-minute mark, and neither seemed to even be able to get touches in the low post.

But after the break, it was clear that Duke was making a concerted effort to feed its big men down low. On the first possession of the half, the Blue Devils strung together a gorgeous sequence of passes, throwing it to the free-throw line to Carter, who dumped it down to Bagley before he then fed Javin DeLaurier for the jam.

Two trips later, it was another simple high-low set, this time with Bagley finishing the play off on a two-handed jam.

“I just tried to clear my mind,” Bagley said. “As soon as I came into halftime, I just tried to put it behind me. [I wanted to] start over, start fresh, just erase it and keep being aggressive, keep playing my game and relax.”

By game’s end, the freshman had done a whole lot more than simply make his mark on college basketball’s most storied rivalry. Bagley channeled what Trevon Duval described as “a different animal,” reminding fans and analysts alike why he very well may be the best player in the country.

“I just try to play as hard as I possible can, go for every ball I can, stay aggressive and just play with aggression, play angry,” Bagley said. “It just comes out. You just get in that zone where you feel like nobody can stop you and you can just keep playing hard. I can’t really put it into words, but it’s heart.”

Without the forward’s heroics, it’s hard to foresee how Saturday’s contest would have otherwise wound up with Duke on top. Bagley’s alley-oop from Trevon Duval with 86 ticks to play gave the Blue Devils an eight-point cushion and salted away any chances at a Tar Heel season sweep.

Chances are that this will be the final time Bagley gets to partake in the Tobacco Road rivalry, barring a repeat scenario of last year’s ACC tournament when Duke met North Carolina in the semifinals—the same spot where they could meet again Friday.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski didn’t let that fact past him, as the 71-year-old sat down with each of his freshmen who are likely to depart following the season to remind them that Saturday’s game was about more than just Allen—it was about having their one last moment to cherish on the floor at Cameron Indoor.

“Marvin went nuts there for a while and just put us on his back,” Krzyzewski said. “Some of the best plays of any player in the country occurred during those few minutes by that kid. He got angry, he didn’t want to lose, and boy, the will that he showed was phenomenal.”

If there was any doubt about how important Bagley is for this group of Blue Devils, he swiftly erased it in the most crucial moment of Duke’s season so far.

“It was just attack mode—stay aggressive, keep attack the basket and just play with anger,” Bagley said. “That’s something I pride myself on, playing hard every possession, and not every possession’s going to be perfect, but I’m just trying to learn everything still and give it my all every time I’m out there.”

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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