CHAPEL HILL—“The main thing I say about this team is the bigger the environment, the more our team comes to play. We got so many guys who just love the big environment, the big spotlight, the big crowds. The thing is, we love being the villain.”
Wendell Moore Jr. perfectly summarized this dominant win for Duke and what has become the team’s image.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final game in Chapel Hill became of many themes of Saturday's matchup. The latest installment of the rivalry featured a possessed Blue Devil team, or rather, a Blue Devil team that was playing to all the hype. The Blue Devils shot the ball extremely well, played tough defense and most importantly, were unfazed by the seemingly insurmountable crowd noise.
It had been two years since the last Duke-North Carolina game had fans at full capacity in the stands, so you can bet the fans were ready to bring it this time around. Only the captains, Moore and Joey Baker, had been inside the Dean Smith Center for the last rivalry game with spectators and while initial assumptions may have pegged the rest of the Blue Devils as “unprepared” for the spectacle, that was the last adjective that one could use to describe the way they performed.
Krzyzewski’s method of getting his players mentally ready for this stage included showing them a motivational video the night before that showcased the atmosphere of the stadium and some highlights from throughout the years of the rivalry.
“It was more to let them know what a Duke-Carolina game would be like in the Smith Center,” he said. “Our guys love playing in big time atmospheres and this one’s a little bit different.”
The mob of Tar Heel fans inside the stadium was deafening at tipoff. But within 3:08, Duke was already holding an 11-point lead and it wasn’t the Blue Devils who were looking rattled.
With every Duke basket and big play, the air in the Dean Dome just got more and more sucked out—like there was a giant vacuum under the stands. When the lead reached 23 in the first half, it was the absence of crowd noise that had become more deafening.
“We love playing on the road. We love when the whole stadium’s against us because we know we can silence the crowd,” Moore said. “There's no better feeling than really silencing an opponent's crowd.”
It was almost as if Duke was playing in dead silence, for many parts of the contest, it seemed as though it was just at a shootaround. Everything was falling within the first 12 minutes of the game and especially for one man in particular: AJ Griffin.
Griffin’s season-best performance came in the midst of what was supposed to be the season’s greatest challenge. He played 31 minutes (tied for second most on the team) of ball-dominant basketball posting a career-high 27 points on 11-of-17 shooting. The freshman has been most notably known for his 3-point shooting, which he was a smooth 3-of-6 in doing so, but displayed a new facet to his game Saturday.
Griffin put the ball on the floor more than any other game this year and thrived around the rim. This included a series of tough layups, pull up jumpers and one forceful left-handed slam that Krzyzewski pointed out as a direct product of the work Griffin has put in and that “three weeks ago he wouldn’t have been able to do that.”
The road has particularly been challenging for the Blue Devils this year. The team’s first true away game took them to Ohio State where it fell after an ugly stretch of basketball. Two road games later and the Blue Devils fell once again to Florida State in an overtime thriller. But when Duke started this road trip a week ago, something had changed. The noise of hostile fans in brutal environments didn’t seem to have the same effect. Duke picked up dominant wins at Louisville, Notre Dame and now North Carolina, with each victory more dominating than the last.
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