5 observations from No. 7 Duke men's basketball's first half against No. 3 North Carolina

Jeremy Roach floats a shot over North Carolina defenders during the first half of Saturday's rivalry showdown.
Jeremy Roach floats a shot over North Carolina defenders during the first half of Saturday's rivalry showdown.

CHAPEL HILL — Under the blinding lights and deafening roars of the Dean E. Smith Center, No. 7 Duke has met a formidable foe so far against archrival and national No. 3 North Carolina. The Blue Devils have work to do after a physical opening frame and enter the halftime locker room with a 45-35 deficit to close:

Battle of the bigs

Perhaps the most compelling individual matchup of Saturday’s top-10 showdown is between North Carolina’s Armando Bacot and Duke’s Kyle Filipowski, two of the top big men in the country and both top-20 late-season candidates for the Wooden Award. The two gave fans a battle worthy of the rivalry in March 2023, with Filipowski’s 22 points and 13 rebounds trumping Bacot’s 17 points and 11 rebounds in the Duke win

Neither player wasted any time engaging the other Saturday, with Filipowski working past Bacot for the first points of the game and the Tar Heel star returning the favor on the other end. It was the older Bacot, though, who had the upper hand in the first half, posting 12 points and giving the crowd something to cheer about with a deep two from the top of the key. Filipowski tallied six points in a limited 13 minutes after exiting with an early personal foul.

At the line

In what has always been a notoriously chippy rivalry, the referees mainly let the teams play in the first half. The Tar Heels, however, head to the locker room with a significant advantage in free-throw attempts as the Blue Devils failed to get to the stripe at all through 20 minutes. Fortunately for head coach Jon Scheyer’s Duke team, North Carolina has struggled to capitalize on this gap, shooting just 5-of-9 from the line themselves.

Rolling in the deep

Entering Saturday evening as the top 3-point-shooting team in the conference by percentage, the Blue Devils employed patience beyond the arc in the game’s opening minutes. The visitors attempted just three triples in the first 10 minutes, with senior guard Jeremy Roach’s make with 10:24 to go representing the first for Duke.

The Tar Heels, however, came out shooting after struggling from deep in a Tuesday loss at Georgia Tech. Rivalry newcomers Harrison Ingram and Cormac Ryan both hit big threes for the home side, who made 4-of-12 3-point attempts by half's end. Roach and freshman guard Jared McCain were the only two Blue Devils to connect from deep as the team combined to shoot 3-of-8 from beyond the arc.

All that and more

In the first top-10 matchup between Duke and North Carolina since March 2019, the basketball itself lived up to its billing. The Tar Heels took the early momentum and jumped out to a 20-14 lead, and after some neck-and-neck play, gained a bit more separation as time wound down. The first 20 minutes were a largely clean and fast-paced affair, as neither team reached the bonus until the Tar Heels worked their way in with just under four minutes to play.

The Tar Heels, true to their status in the conference and AP Poll, are in control after one in Chapel Hill, but Duke has matched up well and is hanging in there in this heavyweight battle.

Player of the half: Jeremy Roach

Playing in his eighth game in the Tobacco Road rivalry, Roach paced his team on offense with a team-high 10 points with two consecutive threes near the midway point of the half. The senior guard, recently limited by a series of lower-body injuries, made his first start since Jan. 23 against Louisville after two games off the bench and looked to be at full strength. Look for the veteran to continue directing the Blue Devil attack while focusing on ACC scoring leader RJ Davis (four points in the first half) on the defensive end.

Jonathan Levitan

Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity senior and was previously sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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