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Beyond the arc: Duke men's basketball receives a miracle in Chapel Hill

Jones finished with 28 points, six assists and three steals in 42 minutes
Jones finished with 28 points, six assists and three steals in 42 minutes

While some may say Duke’s 98-96 overtime win against North Carolina was hot garbage and another example of the Blue Devils playing down to lesser opponents, no one can deny that this was the most exciting game of the season. Now, as the college basketball world sits slack-jawed, the Blue Zone is here to give you three key takeaways, stats and a look forward for the Blue Devils:

Three key takeaways:

The Blue Devils are consistently inconsistent

Duke won fair and square. After the fight the Blue Devils put up, they deserved it. However, one can’t help but look at this game and think, “Really? That’s the No. 7 team in the country?” Duke was fundamentally outplayed for the majority of the game by a team whose own head coach has called it “the least gifted team I've ever coached in the time that I've been back here.” 

The game could really be divided into two acts: the first 38 minutes and everything that happened after. The Blue Devils' performance was night and day, with their aggression and execution ramped up to a level unseen this season, but only for a handful of minutes. In every game this year, you can make out instances of a first-class team, but glimpses of greatness do not equate to greatness. If, and only if, Duke can start to play not to, but above the level of its opponents, it will be a great team and one deserving of a title.

The Real Ice Tre

At this point it may be needless to say, but Tre Jones is the best point guard in college basketball. Sure, he can be inconsistent from deep and sure, he did airball the final shot, but I would challenge you to think of another college point guard who could single-handedly will his team to a comeback against odds like these. At this point in time, Jones is Duke basketball, and the success of the team will depend on the success of him. 

North Carolina lacks the clutch gene

From the first minute to the 38th, North Carolina had this game in the bag. Duke had played an inferior brand of basketball for nearly all of regulation, including but not limited to missed jumpers, bad drives and poor rebounding. Without taking credit away from the Blue Devils for a miracle win, it is fair to say that the Tar Heels choked. They had everything: the lead, the momentum and the home court advantage. There was no reason for them to give up the lead they had held for virtually the entire game. 

Three key stats:

1:47 with the lead 

You read that right. Outside of a measly six-second, one-point lead early in the first half, the Blue Devils trailed for all of regulation. There wasn’t even a tie until the final buzzer sounded. Granted, Duke was never completely out of the contest, with its greatest deficit totaling 15 points. That deficit felt possible to overcome, but at a certain point, that idea began to feel like nothing more than wishful thinking.

In overtime, the Blue Devils seemed like they had the momentum and their touch back. Unfortunately, the Tar Heels wouldn’t roll over that easily. They made it a contest and almost ran away with it for a second time, with Duke holding the lead for just 1:41 of the five-minute overtime period. 

The odds were against the Blue Devils. Don’t ever tell Duke the odds.

Fifteen straight points

To further emphasize the point of Jones putting the team on his back, he was the Blue Devils' only bucket-getter for the last 48 seconds of regulation and first minute and a half of overtime. In this stretch, Jones poured in 15 points, getting the job done in every sense of the word. Effectively dividing his points with five made field goals and five made free throws, he played with a fire and efficiency that hasn’t been seen at Duke all year. Using years worth of basketball IQ and an unreal 100 percent shooting percentage from the field during this stretch, Jones took the Tar Heels to school, at their own school. 

Zero benches burned

In the postgame frenzy that took place on Duke’s campus, hundreds of crazed Crazies flooded from every corner of campus to take part in one of the school's most historical and unsanctioned traditions: bench burning. Students flocked to the quad near Sherwood House in anticipation of good-spirited arson, but what they found was a rigid troop of Duke police officers who refused to allow the burning unless a permit was presented. 

As chants of “burn it” and expletives directed at North Carolina echoed across West Campus, longtime Dean of Students and campus legend Sue Wasiolek—also known simply as "Dean Sue"—stepped onto the scene. Some students believed she was there to save the day and burn the bench, while others thought she was there to tame the crowd and put an end to it. The latter was right. Slowly, the chants died down and the students dispersed, disappointed in the lack of fire, but still ecstatic from the comeback of the decade (so far).

Looking forward:

The Blue Devils will return to Cameron Indoor Stadium to host the No. 8 Florida State Seminoles Monday night. Duke and Florida State have much in common: the same overall 20-3 record as well as a win against North Carolina this season, albeit in fairly different fashions. This will be a challenging game, and it is critical for Duke to celebrate quickly and refocus if it wants to be able to compete. As good as it feels for the Blue Devils to win their rivalry game, they will face an objectively better team on Monday, and if they show up like they did in Chapel Hill they will be run out of the gym.

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