CHAPEL HILL— Top-10 matchup or not, Duke and North Carolina nearly always deliver. But on Saturday, the Tar Heels took full control early on and left the Blue Devils in the dust as they ran away with a big win.
In a high-scoring affair, it became a battle of No. 3 North Carolina’s frontcourt against No. 7 Duke’s backcourt. Freshman guard Jared McCain (23 points) took control of the offense in the second half for the Blue Devils while North Carolina maintained its trust in forward Harrison Ingram and center Armando Bacot while mixing things up by spotting up on the wings for a deep shot. But the Tar Heels had much more going for them than the Blue Devils, who at times in the second half looked disorganized and careless with the ball. The Tar Heels capitalized over and over again, taking the first rivalry matchup of the season 93-84.
"You can play really well and compete your your butt off and still lose to them because they're a really good team," head coach Jon Scheyer said. "But we didn't compete to the level that you need to to have a chance to beat this team tonight."
Near the middle of the second half, each North Carolina possession was another chance to place the dagger. The quick 11-4 Tar Heel run did just that, as Duke (16-5, 7-3 in the ACC) could not connect on threes and North Carolina continued to take advantage of Blue Devil mistakes, at that point up by 15 points.
ACC leading scorer RJ Davis connected on his first 3-pointer of the night at the 8:44 mark, giving North Carolina a 13-point lead, but sophomore center Kyle Filipowski came back with the first of his own — and senior Jeremy Roach followed that up with a mid range jumper to close the deficit back to eight, the closest the game had been in nearly eight minutes.
The Tar Heels (18-4, 10-1) nearly brought the Dean E. Smith Center down when Ingram dove for a loose ball before lobbing it outside to reset the play. North Carolina swung the ball to Cormac Ryan in the corner, who hit an uncontested three to put his team back up by 11 with 6:02 to go. Each big Duke bucket was followed by a bigger one by the Tar Heels — notably a three from McCain which was succeeded by an and-one for Bacot to erase Duke’s progress.
The Blue Devils saw a glimpse of hope late as they were awarded two shots and the ball off of a Davis flagrant foul, which gave Duke an opportunity to cut the deficit to as little as four. But Filipowski missed the first free throw and the Blue Devils turned over the inbound pass, all but sealing a North Carolina victory.
"This group hasn't gotten it perfect all the time. The core group is back from last year, they always respond though," Scheyer said.
Duke hoped to prevent too many second-chance opportunities by crashing the defensive glass early — all in the face of a slight deficit. While McCain was racking up rebounds en route to a double-double, Roach was first to capitalize by nailing a pair of first-half threes to help close a six-point deficit and tie the game before the Tar Heels had a chance to go on a run. Roach, who had not started since Jan. 23, was back in the starting lineup and stabilized the Blue Devil offense with his 20 points on 9-for-16 shooting — crucial with sophomore Tyrese Proctor struggling to make a difference on either end.
North Carolina eventually found that spark near the end of the first period, with an Elliot Cadeau jumper putting the Tar Heels up by 10 with under four minutes to go. McCain scored five straight for Duke before a Ingram 3-pointer and pair of Bacot finishes inside had the home fans elated by a double-digit halftime lead. Bacot ultimately took over the paint, scoring well above his season average with 25 points on his way to his 77th-career double-double.
Ingram proved his value time and time again for North Carolina, as the Stanford transfer drilled five threes — to build the lead before the break, and then to expand on it on the other side of the half. Duke looked unable to contain Ingram (21 points, 13 rebounds, four steals), who hit several big shots from the same spot on the floor without much defensive coverage. Meanwhile, Davis was largely absent from the scoring parade for North Carolina until he got going in the second half, as he picked up 17 points on a 5-for-14 clip after a quiet opening frame.
"I thought that defense throughout was really good," Scheyer said of his team's attempt to contain Ingram. "I thought when we got down, we gambled a little bit and gave him some open looks."
Filipowski tried to use his ability to space the floor to the Blue Devils’ advantage but airballed his first 3-point attempt for the night and picked up an early foul. Just days after being named to the Wooden Award’s late-season watch list, the Westtown, N.Y., native collected 22 points and five rebounds, but he was nevertheless outmatched in the paint.
The Blue Devils drop another game behind the Tar Heels in the ACC standings but will be back home Wednesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium to play Notre Dame.
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Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity senior and was previously a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.