SENIORITIS: No. 9 Duke men's basketball trails wire-to-wire, gets swept by North Carolina to concede ACC crown

Jared McCain holds off North Carolina guard RJ Davis as he drives to the rim.
Jared McCain holds off North Carolina guard RJ Davis as he drives to the rim.

Kyle Filipowski hit two quick jumpers out of the halftime break to bring Duke within five after nearly 20 minutes of deep deficit. Jared McCain edged backwards and applauded, eyed the jubilant Cameron Crazies and grinned. Elliot Cadeau missed a free throw, Filipowski backed down his man and hit a 3-point jumper as the crowd went wild. Head coach Jon Scheyer kept his cool, squatting by the bench stone-faced as Tyrese Proctor nailed a trey of his own.

What was once a 15-point game was now within one.

What followed was not a Blue Devil lead or even a tie, but a continuation of a trend that plagued No. 9 Duke from start to finish Saturday evening. For every energizing play the Blue Devils could conjure the seventh-ranked Tar Heels could seemingly conjure two, helping the visitors lead from start to finish en route to a 84-79 win inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. The victory — North Carolina’s second of the season on its historic rival — ensures that the outright ACC regular-season title will be heading to Chapel Hill and ends the home careers of Duke’s seniors on a downer note.

"Obviously it's a tough loss, it hurt," Filipowski said. "[But] we still put ourselves in a position to succeed. We gotta fine-tune some of those details, now move forwards."

That potentially game-changing sequence predated some distinctly mediocre ones by the home team, including a Filipowski airball, a missed layup by sophomore forward Mark Mitchell and give-and-go turnover by Ryan Young. A deep Proctor three off a Filipowski feed was quickly answered with a trey from Cormac Ryan, re-extending the gap into double-digits. Ryan hit another step-back three — his fifth of the night — and shushed the crowd. Then he swished another to put the Tar Heels up nine. Curtains.

"You got to give him credit when he hits," Scheyer said. "You gotta make shots at the end of the day, and give him credit. But we didn't do a good enough job there."

After a fast couple of buckets from Harrison Ingram and Armando Bacot to kick off proceedings, Filipowski responded in kind with a spin and fadeaway jumper right in Bacot’s face. The Blue Devils (24-7, 15-5 in the ACC) then got a brutal case of Brady Manek deja vu when Ryan hit not one, not two, but three straight shots from deep to put the Tar Heels (25-6, 17-3) up 15-4 less than four minutes into the game. 

"You got to not give Ryan two open threes to start the game," Scheyer said. "That sets the tone for the night. It happened to us against Pitt, earlier in the year with [Blake] Hinson and the whole dynamic of the game shifts. And so for us, we're playing catch up the whole way, but still battled back." 

Some occasional bright spots — including a towering block by Sean Stewart on Davis’ incisive drive and a Proctor breakaway slam — proved little consolation to the Tar Heel cannonade. Duke’s defensive calling card was counted, too, with North Carolina’s frontcourt repeatedly out-bodying Filipowski and Mitchell on the boards.

Just as he did in Chapel Hill, Ingram proved particularly tough to guard, amassing seven points by the break and 14 by the final whistle. From the first minute onward, the junior forward would jog back on defense with his palm facing the ground every time he scored, mocking Duke’s defenders for being “too small.” 

To their credit, the Blue Devils did well to slow Davis and Bacot down, but Filipowski and Roach struggled in turn to make an impact of their own early on. Duke’s focus on North Carolina’s pair of potential All-Americans opened up lanes for other Tar Heels to have their way, however, enabling the likes of Ingram, Ryan and Seth Trimble to build their team’s lead nonetheless. Filipowski began to find some rhythm in the second half, but the same cannot be said for Roach, who found almost no open lanes or clean shots to close his senior season at home with a bang.

For all Duke’s difficulty in closing down Ingram, however, North Carolina struggled just as mightily to stop Proctor and McCain.

The Australian point guard was lethal amid a generally wasteful first half from his team, catching Davis twice in possession and racing down the floor for a breakaway dunk and lay-in, respectively, that juiced up the home crowd. The sophomore was evidently eager to right historical wrongs, providing Duke one of its most reliable sources of offense just a month and some change after scoring only two points in Chapel Hill.

McCain nearly grabbed a double-double and was his team’s most efficient rebounder, surpassing both Mitchell and Filipowski down low. Opportunities for the freshman’s specialty transition threes proved scant, but his 38 energetic minutes and 19 points proved vital in the Blue Devils’ comeback bid.

Six back-to-back points from the Sacramento, Calif., native injected new life into a dejected home support and leggy home team. But Young’s third foul a few minutes earlier meant North Carolina was in the bonus, forcing the Blue Devils to play more cautiously as they tried to fight back and allowing the Tar Heels to grab free points on the other end.

On the foul note: At one point with just under five minutes to play in the second half, all of Duke’s 11 fouls were on its big men. Filipowski and Stewart each had four in addition to Young’s three.

"It would be one thing if we lost and we weren't good enough, or it's something you can't control. I feel everything here is what we can control. I really do. Like this group can do it," Scheyer said. "This group has always responded, I think it's gonna be nothing different now."

The Blue Devils now await the ACC tournament quarterfinals, beginning Thursday in the nation’s capital.


Andrew Long profile
Andrew Long | Recruitment/Social Chair

Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and recruitment/social chair of The Chronicle's 120th volume. He was previously sports editor for Volume 119.

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