NEW YORK—Have you had enough of the Tobacco Road rivalry?
Clearly, neither Duke nor North Carolina has.
For a second consecutive year, the No. 2 seed Blue Devils and the sixth-seeded Tar Heels will meet in the ACC tournament semifinals for a postseason grudge match after the rivals split the season series with each winning on their respective home floors. The matchup will be the second contest of the night, tipping off from the Barclays Center at approximately 9:30 p.m. Friday following the first semifinal between top-seeded Virginia and No. 4 Clemson.
Although Duke's players seemed reluctant to admit that they were hoping for yet another matchup against their hated rival after topping Notre Dame Thursday night, it was evident—at least in undertones—that the Blue Devils were eager for an opportunity to settle a score.
"We can't do anything but take it one game at a time," Marvin Bagley III said following Duke's quarterfinal victory. "We can't look ahead. We can't assume that we have an extra day because one loss and we're back home and we don't get to come back, practice a little bit more, come back and play in this tournament again, so we really have to every single day lock in and just come together."
It was just six days ago that the two teams met in Durham on Grayson Allen's Senior Night, with the Blue Devils (26-6) storming back from down 13 to emerge victorious.
Thursday night in Brooklyn, North Carolina (24-9) had to do the same after surrendering 14 unanswered points to start its quarterfinal contest against No. 3 seed Miami. The Tar Heels then closed on an overwhelming 82-51 run to see another day—North Carolina will play its third game in as many days when it takes the floor come Friday.
"Right now, we've just got to keep on playing and keep on advancing," Tar Heel senior Joel Berry II said. "This time, we've got to make sure that in the second half we keep on playing.
"It's not about the rivalry now. It's just about the ACC tournament and moving on and advancing. It's not about the fans, it's about us.... We've just got to play [Duke] like another team."
For Berry, Friday will mean a chance for redemption after a miserable performance at Cameron Indoor Stadium last weekend. North Carolina's floor general struggled mightly to find the bottom of the net in the regular-season finale, when he shot 3-of-11 from the field and failed to knock down a triple.
Much of the reason for Berry and the Tar Heels' second-half offensive woes in that game was due to a tightening on the defensive end for the Blue Devils. Wendell Carter Jr. notched a pair of rejections in the victory and dominated the paint as North Carolina shot just 36.1 percent from the field as a team after intermission.
With Berry cold, classmate Theo Pinson has stepped up offensively, scoring 25 points and grabbing 11 rebounds Thursday against the Hurricanes.
But come Friday, Duke may have to go without one of its freshmen big men, as Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski mentioned in his Thursday night press conference that Carter had not practiced the past week due to a nagging foot injury.
If Carter is relegated to limited minutes for a second straight night—he picked up three first-half fouls against the Fighting Irish—or doesn't see the floor at all, Duke may have to turn to sophomore Marques Bolden as one of the guys to pick up some slack.
"Really just within my body and being healthy, being able to play with the guys and feel like my normal self, I’m [gaining confidence and] glad to be out there," Bolden said. "It’s next man up. In a tough situation like that, we need everybody on the team—that’s what Coach is preaching every day."
Of course, the Tar Heels will have to also find a way to slow down Bagley after the freshman led the way in the Blue Devils' comeback last weekend to the tune of 21 points and 15 rebounds. Thursday, he turned in yet another dominant effort, racking up a near-career-high 33 points to go along with 17 boards and 15 made field goals.
"[The key is] just making it hard for [Bagley], just not letting him get the ball," Berry said. "If he does, wall in and make it tough for him."
Thursday night's results mean that for the 22nd straight year, either the Blue Devils or North Carolina will make an appearance in the ACC tournament title game.
But with Duke looking to capture consecutive conference championships for the sixth time in program history, it will have to take after the words of Brooklyn's own Jay-Z and simply "move onto the next one."
"One of the things that we need to keep up is keep improving our defense, stay at it," Allen said. "We're going to review film and get ready for the next game, but we know there's a few things we can do better both offensively and defensively. As long as we keep clicking on the defensive side of the ball, we'll be good."
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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."