CHAPEL HILL—Most people expected the final matchup for Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski against North Carolina at the Dean E. Smith Center to be a close one. And it was—for about 10 seconds.
The ninth-ranked Blue Devils cleaned the Tar Heels’ clocks 87-67 in the first rivalry game with fans in attendance since 2020. It also marked Hubert Davis’ first dance with the Devils as North Carolina’s head coach. Freshman forward AJ Griffin made sure Davis’ debut was not a happy one.
Griffin scored 10 unanswered points to open the second half, plunging dagger after dagger into the hearts of a pumped Tar Heel crowd. Within three minutes, North Carolina found itself trailing by 21 points. The Tar Heels simply could not muster any sort of response, and with six minutes left to play, thousands of fans began to filter out of the Dean Dome.
"There's no better feeling than silencing an opponent's crowd," junior forward Wendell Moore Jr. said.
Griffin played by far his best and most complete game of the season, scoring 27 points on an incredible 11-of-17 shooting clip and grabbing four rebounds. A left-handed slam from the young forward punctuated a dominant win for the Blue Devils.
"AJ exploded," Krzyzewski said. "We wanted to run a couple things for him. He ran one thing, and he went off.... AJ was a star today."
"[Griffin] was on a different level," Moore said. "Hats off to him. The thing is, he is only going to keep getting better."
But Griffin was no one-man wrecking crew. Duke (19-3, 9-2 in the ACC) played ferocious defense, allowing the Tar Heels (16-7, 8-4) to shoot only 31% from the field in the first half. Duke center Mark Williams kept big man Armando Bacot in check the entire game. Bacot and North Carolina did not fare much better in the second period.
After 13 minutes of play, the Tar Heels still had not found a rhythm. Three of North Carolina’s starters—Caleb Love, RJ Davis and Leaky Black—shot a combined 0-for-9 to begin the game.
"It really makes our job easier on the offensive end," Moore said of Duke's defensive success.
Duke made an offensive statement early, and one not so favorable with the packed Carolina crowd. Freshman forward Paolo Banchero hit a half-spin jumper in the first 10 seconds. Griffin followed with a 3-pointer, and Banchero hit another trey to give Duke an 8-2 lead before a minute had run off the clock.
The Blue Devil lead only grew from there. Duke led from start to finish—all 40 minutes.
North Carolina suffered a 4:20 scoring drought in the opening period before an Armando Bacot hook shot fell. Duke took advantage of strong showings from Griffin and Banchero, who combined for 18 first-half points, to take a massive 23-point lead.
North Carolina forward Brady Manek kept North Carolina in the game almost single-handedly during the first half. Manek scored 16 of the Tar Heels’ 28 first-period points. His play whittled down the Blue Devil lead to just 11 at the intermission.
"We won the first 12 minutes of the half," Krzyzewski said. "They won the next eight minutes. They seized some momentum."
Manek continued to rain down jumpers after halftime. He made six treys and scored 21 points by the final buzzer.
But Manek’s efforts and a late surge from Tar Heel point guard Caleb Love could not stave off Duke’s relentless second-half onslaught. Banchero scored 13 points and nabbed 10 rebounds. Moore contributed 13 points on efficient 5-for-6 shooting.
On the whole, the Blue Devils shot the ball better than they had against almost any other ACC team this season. Duke shot 58% from the field, its second-best mark on the year. With the win, Krzyzewski moved to 50-46 all-time against the Tar Heels, guaranteeing a career winning record against the Tobacco Road rivals.
"It's the last time for [Krzyzewski] coming to Carolina, and we wanted to send him out with a win," Moore said. "He definitely deserves that."
Coach K’s campaign against the Tar Heels is not quite over yet, though. The Blue Devils return home to take on Virginia Monday night. North Carolina will have to wait until March 5 to do battle with Coach K again—his final game ever at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.