In the final game of the ACC regular season, the Blue Devils succumbed to a near perfect start from the Tar Heels and trail 42-26 heading to the locker room. Here are five observations from the game’s first half:
Blue Devils’ disaster
The Tar Heels have fed off of the energy provided from a small crowd in the Dean E. Smith Center which propelled them to an early lead. Duke was expected to surrender points in the paint, but the real reason for the early deficit came on the other end of the floor. North Carolina’s defensive on-ball pressure forced the Blue Devils to repeatedly use much of the shot clock. By the second media timeout, Duke trailed 21-6 in the pivotal rematch.
Brooks playing through injury
Big man Garrison Brooks, arguably the Tar Heels’ best player, expected to have a major role during his final game in the Dean Dome. The senior promptly knocked down a jumper from the elbow on North Carolina’s first possession of the game but landed awkwardly after a shot contest from Hurt. Brooks went to the locker room for six minutes of gameplay, but seemed okay to play and returned in time to knock down two more midrange jumpers.
Duke’s leading scorer did not have a big impact in the first battle between these two teams, and Saturday night is more of the same. Whether it was a contested jumper or a wide open look from 3-point range, the ocean that Matthew Hurt was shooting into over the past few weeks turned into putting a thread through the needle. The sophomore ended the half 2-for-6 from the floor for just five points as he struggled to deal with North Carolina’s size.
A 10-for-15 3-point shooting performance in the first game of the rivalry pushed the Tar Heels to the win in Durham, and that range carried over down 15-501 to tonight’s game. North Carolina knocked down 5 of 8 shots from beyond the arc and 55.2% of its total shots on the game. Duke is simply running into a freight train over the first 20 minutes.
Player of the half: DJ Steward
There weren’t many positives from the Blue Devils’ first half, though Steward finally started to play with a killer instinct. The freshman stopped the bleeding early with a 4-point play and was one of the few Duke players to really look to attack the Tar Heels’ pressure. Steward finished the half with 11 points and two assists, leading the team in scoring. The Blue Devils will need his shooting prowess in the second half if they want to steal away a much-needed victory.
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