By Doc Kennedy
Imagine that some sportswriters wrote thought pieces wondering if the UNC-Duke rivalry would be the same without Coach K and Roy Williams on the sidelines and after the Heels sent Duke packing not only in Mike Krzyzewski’s last home game, but in the Final Four as well.
There were lots of new faces, but plenty of the old-time energy as the Blue Devils outlasted Carolina in a 63–57 rock fight in a raucous Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night.
Because of Duke’s use of primarily one-and-done players, ESPN mentioned in the pregame that the only Blue Devil who saw any significant time in the three Carolina-Duke games last year was Jeremy Roach, and that was evident early as Roach was Duke’s only offense on the way to UNC staking an early five-point lead.
Duke’s youngsters would grow up quickly as the Devils took advantage of two early RJ Davis fouls to climb back into the game after the Heels went up seven on two occasions and Duke ended up with a one-point halftime lead.
Carolina opened ice cold in the second half but was able to keep Duke within shouting distance, even taking a brief lead twice, the last time with about 9 minutes to play.
But Duke rode the inside presence of Dereck Lively’s 14 rebounds and eight blocks to snuff out the Heels inside and after Pete Nance’s lone points of the night tied the game at 57 with 3:58 to play, Carolina would not score again. Duke secured two key offensive rebounds in the last 1:45 that ended in baskets and a pair of Roach free throws provided the final margin.
This was another tough loss as UNC again showed an inability to close out a tight game as five of their eight losses are by 6 points or fewer. Carolina has also been rough on the road, falling to 2–5 on the road.
With that in mind, here is the UNC-Duke Round 1 Good, Bad, and Ugly Report:
The senior big man continues to do all he can do to will his team to victory with yet another double-double, posting 14 points and 10 rebounds while adding two assists and two blocks. But this is a conditional listing, as Bacot was only 1 of 4 in the second half and did not have a shot attempt in the last 12 minutes or a rebound in the last nine minutes (more on that later).
Once the team’s leading 3-point shooter, Black had only hit 2 of his last 20 3-point shots coming into Saturday. But the fifth-year senior recorded his first career double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, including 3 of 6 from 3. Black had been such an offensive liability that Duke wasn’t even guarding him on the perimeter in the first half, dropping his man to guard Bacot. Black made them pay three times but missed a wide-open shot with 1:08 to play that would have given Carolina the lead.
If you had told me UNC would hold Duke to 63 points, 39% from the floor, and 36% from 3, while holding Kyle Filipowski to 14 points on 4 of 14 shooting, I would have felt pretty good about UNC’s chances. It’s just that Carolina’s offense was even more putrid.
Since getting hit in the face and re-injuring a finger on his shooting hand against Syracuse, Davis has gone 8 of 31 from the floor and 1 of 11 from three in the two games since then. Davis was slowed early by that dislocated index finger in his shooting hand but had seemed to get his shooting touch back during UNC’s 6–1 run in January. Here’s hoping he can find it again because Carolina will need him to score if the Heels are going to make a late-season run.
Rebounding and transition
Who knew that two things UNC used to pride itself on would be such a liability? Although Duke only outrebounded the Heels by six, in the last two minutes, the Devils got two key offensive rebounds that led to baskets that in effect, ended the game. Duke also blitzed the Heels 16–0 in the first half in transition points, and even though Carolina reduced that advantage to 4–2 in the second half, a UNC team getting outscored 20–2 in rebounding is something no one expected to see.
Lack of post offense
Carolina’s perplexing inability to remember they have one of the best players in the ACC in the post continued again on Saturday. All season, the Tar Heels have had stretches where they simply refuse to run the offense through Bacot, and the same thing happened again in the second half versus Duke.
Lively was a beast in the post all night and when he went out for a break early in the second half, UNC ran nine consecutive offensive sets where Bacot did not even touch the ball on offense. Moreover, when Bacot returned after a break for the stretch run in the 4th quarter, UNC ran absolutely nothing for him.
Bacot only touched the ball on offense once in the last five minutes, finding Nance for a wide-open 3 that would have given Carolina the lead, but Nance missed. It seems everyone in America knows UNC’s offense is better when the offense runs through Bacot, even when he is drawing double and triple-teams, but for some reason, the Heels go through long stretches where that doesn’t happen.
UNC entered the game 307th in Division I in 3-point shooting, and a 7 of 27, 25.9% effort will not improve that standing. Take out Leaky’s 3 of 6 line, and the rest of the team was a pathetic 4 of 21. Caleb Love made his first 3-point attempt, and then Love, Davis, and Nance shot 2 of 16 from deep for the remainder of the game. Not going to beat anyone like that, but that doesn’t seem to stop the Heels from chucking them up.
Carolina entered the game having shot 150 more free throws than its opponents, but the Heels only earned three trips to the stripe all night, and none in the second half, while Duke had 15 attempts. The Blue Devils did not put UNC into the bonus either half and were only whistled for 11 fouls (Carolina was called for 14) in a physical game where the referees let the teams play.
No one expects sympathy for UNC after the free throw discrepancies against N.C. State and Syracuse, but the three attempts ties the second-fewest attempts for a Carolina team, and it has only happened one other time in the last 100 years. That is not at all the reason why UNC lost, but it is a heck of a stat.
So now UNC will head to Winston-Salem Tuesday to face a Deacons team in desperate need of a signature win to climb into NCAA tournament bubble discussion.
Carolina has eight games left, ranked as the toughest remaining schedule in the ACC. Six of those games are against teams with winning records in league play. To feel comfortable on Selection Sunday, the Heels will likely need to win six of those games, which leaves hardly any room for error. If this team is going to kick it into gear for a postseason run, they will need to do it soon.
Photo via @UNC_Basketball
The only thing I can say is that it appeared to be impossible to run the offense through bacot in 2nd half with Duke doubling down on Bacot an hacking him with not less whistles but NO whistles
I have observed several times this season where we play teams that are very aggressive defensively .. grabbing arms , lots of body contact especially in the post ….yet more fouls are called on us , I really think the players have a feeling of what’s going on and it throws them off
I , as a spectator feel less inclined to watch when officiating is obviously bias
I saw very clearly the PAC 12 officials try to protect UCLA against Arizona a couple of weeks ago .. blatantly
There is an overall decline in quality officiating maybe because of the large number of games being played🤷♂️