By R.L. Bynum
DURHAM — Many nights, the question is when or if Caleb Love will flip the offensive switch and whether it will be enough.
It came late Monday and pushed Carolina to an overtime win over Syracuse. Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium, that switch flipped on Love’s jumper with 12:33 left after hitting only 1 of his first 12 shots. He scored nine points in the next three minutes to help Carolina take control before going on to a 94–81 upset Saturday of No. 4 Duke.
“When I made that three, it kind of got my rhythm going and also getting to the free-throw line got my rhythm going,” said Love, who didn’t miss at the free throw line, where he made a career-high 12 shots, had five assists and only one turnover. “Just sticking to the game plan and not getting rowdy, not letting their pressure bother us. We got what we wanted every time down.”
It ruined Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final Duke home game, secured the No. 3 seed in the ACC Tournament and helped the Tar Heels exit the bubble with a Quad 1 victory.
UNC (23–8, 15–5 ACC) will play in the quarterfinals at 9:30 Thursday night (ESPN). The Tar Heels will face the winner of Wednesday’s 9:30 game between No. 6 Virginia and the winner of Tuesday’s 7 p.m. game between No. 11 Louisville and No. 14 Georgia Tech.
There was plenty of talk all week about Krzyzewski’s final home game and lots of programming on TV about it. Nothing that Love knew about, though.
“I didn’t watch any of that,” Love said. “I was just locked in on us coming in here and doing what we had to do, blocking out the noise. Coach Davis preached to block out the noise. It feels great. Coming in as the underdog and to do that. So, we had nothing to lose and they had everything to lose.”
Carolina played its best half of the season as the starters went the entire second half and committed only one turnover after halftime while shooting 59.4%. Armando Bacot scored 23 points, Love 22, RJ Davis 21 and Brady Manek 20, marking the first time in program history that four players scored at least 20 points in a game.
“Coming into this game, all week, we were confident that we could come in here and win,” Bacot said. “We knew that they would come in fired up, but just all week our main thing was, we were going to fight or we’re going to win the game, but someone’s gonna go down today. And, luckily, we won the game and I’m just so proud of the team and Coach Davis.”
After two seasons full of frustrations, the moment got the best of Bacot after the game.
“When Mondo came off the court in the locker room, he just started crying on my shoulder,” said Coach Hubert Davis after UNC earned his fist win over a Top 5 Duke team since 1990 when the Blue Devils were No. 5.
Bacot wasn’t about to get too excited until the time finally expired.
“I was in this position my freshman year and we ended up giving up a huge lead at home,” Bacot said. “So, I wasn’t excited until the buzzer went off because you can never count them out and I did not want to go through that again.”
Even though Manek is new to the rivalry, he knew to cherish the special victory and thanked Coach Davis.
“He said, ‘Thank you for giving me this experience. This is why I came here,’ ” Davis said of what Manek told him. “I said, ‘No, no, no, thank you for coming here. Thank you for deciding to come and be a part of this program.’ Those types of moments are remembered for the rest of my life and that’s what brings happiness and joy.”
Davis was proud of how his team responded after the blowout loss in Chapel Hill to the Blue Devils and with few people outside thinking it had a chance in the game.
“All week, we just talked about our competitive fight,” Coach Davis said, saying he told his players they had to plant their feet, stand their ground and fight. “If we did those three things, that would put us in a position to do something that a lot of people didn’t think we would have a chance to do.
“I just felt like, as the game went on, we started to just gain more and more confidence,” he said. “This is the healthiest that our team has been all season. The togetherness is the best that it’s been all season.”
On a hot night in the cozy gym, how did UNC’s starters have the endurance to keep going and doing it efficiently?
“Our toughness,” RJ Davis said. “It was all about mental toughness, relying on each other to make big plays. I think that’s what we’re able to do. Obviously, the temperature in the gym was kind of hot, the crowd was into it, we were into it. It was a full energized game. I loved and enjoyed being part of it.”
A Love 3-pointer ignited a 16–5 UNC run to take a 65–61 lead on a Bacot layup with 8:54 left.
A Davis 3-pointer, a spectacular reverse layup on a baseline drive by Leaky Black, an RJ Davis bucket and a Manek layup pushed Carolina’s lead to 79–71 before Moore ended the 8–2 run with a 3-pointer. After a timeout, a Manek 3-pointer shoved the lead to eight.
Leaky Black’s follow shot made it 84–76 with 1:19 left and Bacot’s dunk shortly after put the game away.
After a quick Duke turnover and Bacot’s slam to start the game, UNC was off and running. Carolina took a 9–2 lead on a Manek 3-pointer and a pair of Love free throws in the first 3½ minutes, and had an 11–4 edge at the first TV timeout. Paulo Banchero scored six points in a 10–4 run with Bacot on the bench to trim the lead to one by the second TV timeout.
“Just the beginning of the game just when we came out and threw that first punch, I feel like we kind of stunned them,” Bacot said. “We just came in confident. We believed. We know how good of a team we are. We know at times we’ve had lapses but we came in here, we knew we were going to win the game. And I feel like that’s what really helped us, just being confident.”
Duke went up two on a Wendell Moore 3-pointer but Carolina countered with a Puff Johnson jumper and Manek 3-pointer to lead 26–23 at the third TV timeout.
Bacot went back to the bench after picking up his second foul with 6:22 in the first half and Duke scored nine consecutive points in a 12–0 run to take a 35–28 lead before he returned.
“First half, they were making hard shots and they shot 58% in the first half and we were still only down two,” said Manek, who had 11 rebounds for his 11th career double-double and third as a Tar Heel. “We came out in the second half and played harder, played tough and just the game went in our favor.”
Duke jumped ahead by eight but Carolina cut the halftime deficit to 41–39 on 3-pointers by Manek and Davis in the last 41 seconds.
Mark Williams had four points in a 9–3 Duke run to start the second half and stretch the lead to six.
Banchero led Duke (26–5, 16–4) with 23 points and Jeremy Roach added 15.
The 94 UNC points were the most points Duke has given up this season. The Blue Devils hadn’t even allowed 80 in their previous 23 games.
UNC 94, No. 4 Duke 81
Tuesday’s first round (All games on ACC Network)
No. 12 Boston College vs. No. 13 Pittsburgh, 2 p.m.
No. 10 Clemson vs. No. 15 N.C. State, 4:30 p.m.
No. 11 Louisville vs. No. 14 Georgia Tech, 7 p.m.
Wednesday’s second round
No. 8 Florida State vs. No. 9 Syracuse, noon, ESPN
BC-Pitt winner vs. No. 5 Wake Forest, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Clemson-State winner vs. No. 7 Virginia Tech, 7 p.m., ESPN2/ESPNU
Louisville-Ga. Tech winner vs. No. 6 Virginia, 9:30 p.m., ESPN2
Thursday’s quarterfinals (all games on ESPN or ESPN2)
Noon Wednesday winner vs. No. 1 Duke, noon
2:30 Wednesday winner vs. No. 4 Miami, 2:30 p.m.
7 p.m. Wednesday winner vs. No. 2 Notre Dame, 7 p.m.
9:30 Wednesday winner vs. No. 3 North Carolina, 9:30 p.m.
Friday’s semifinals (both games on ESPN or ESPN2)
Thursday afternoon winners, 7 p.m.
Thursday evening winners, 9:30 p.m.
Saturday’s championship (ESPN)
Semifinal winners, 8:30 p.m.
day, time, TV
|5||83–55 exhibition win||Home||Elizabeth City State|
|9||83–67 win, 1–0||Home||Loyola Maryland|
|12||94–87 win, 2–0||Home||Brown|
|16||94–83 win, 3–0||Road||College of Charleston|
|20||93–84 loss, 3–1||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 8 Purdue|
|21||89–72 loss, 3–2||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 13 Tennessee|
|23||72–53 win, 4–2||Home||UNC Asheville|
|December (5–1, 1-0 ACC)|
|1||72–51 win, 5–2||Home||X — Michigan|
|5||79–62 win, 6–2, 1-0 ACC||Road||Georgia Tech|
|11||80–63 win, 7–2 ACC||Home||Elon|
|14||74–61 win, 8–2 ACC||Home||Furman|
|18||98–69 loss, 8–3 ACC||Las Vegas||Z — No. 7 Kentucky|
|21||70–50 win, 9–3 ACC||Home||Appalachian State|
|January (6–3, 6–3 ACC)|
|2||91–65 win, 10–3, 2-0 ACC||Road||Boston College|
|5||78–73 loss, 10–4, 2-1 ACC||Road||Notre Dame|
|8||74–58 win, 11–4, 3–1 ACC||Home||Virginia|
|15||88–65 win, 12–4, 4–1 ACC||Home||Georgia Tech|
|18||85–57 loss, 12–5, 4–2 ACC||Road||Miami|
|22||98–76 loss, 12–6, 4–3 ACC||Road||Wake Forest|
|24||78–68 win, 13–6, 5–3 ACC||Home||Virginia Tech|
|26||58–47 win, 14–6, 6–3 ACC||Home||Boston College|
|29||100–80 win, 15–6, 7–3 ACC||Home||N.C. State|
|February (7–2, 7–2 ACC)|
|1||90–82 OT win, 16–6, 8–3 ACC||Road||Louisville|
|5||87–67 loss, 16–7, 8–4 ACC||Home||No. 4 Duke|
|8||79–77 win, 17–7, 9–4 ACC||Road||Clemson|
|12||94–74 win, 18–7, 10–4 ACC||Home||Florida State|
|16||76–67 loss, 18–8, 10–5 ACC||Home||Pittsburgh|
|19||65–57 win, 19–8, 11–5 ACC||Road||Virginia Tech|
|21||70–63 win, 20–8, 12–5 ACC||Home||Louisville|
|26||84–74 win, 21–8, 13–5 ACC||Road||N.C. State|
|28||88–79 OT win, 22–8, 14–5 ACC||Home||Syracuse|
|5||94–81 win, 23–8, 15–6 ACC||Road||No. 4 Duke|
|— ACC Tournament —|
|10||TBD, Thursday, ESPN||Brooklyn||TBD|