Photo via Duke's Men Basketball
Once again the Duke-UNC rivalry lived up to the hype. The game was at Cameron Indoor Stadium in front of what seemed to be the loudest Duke crowd in recent memory. The recent struggles, suspension of Grayson Allen, and Coach K’s leave of absence seemed to add fuel to the already loud Cameron Crazies making life very difficult for the Tar Heels.
The game was what everyone expected. Both teams getting out to a quick pace early. Duke is going to shoot the 3 ball well behind Allen, Kennard, and Tatum. There will be many runs, by both UNC and Duke, which will either quiet the crowd or transform it into a jet engine. UNC will look to use their size to their advantage by playing through Meeks, Hicks (was out last night with an ankle injury) and Bradley. And as always, even though it is just one game, it carries the weight of both student bodies and alumnae that will make or break their week, possibly their season.
It was high-scoring, uptempo, and neck to neck going into the halftime with Duke up 40-39. The game then went down to the wire, but Duke’s star power, Grayson Allen and Jason Tatum, overwhelmed the Tar Heels, led by Justin Jackson and Joel Berry.
Highlights from last night’s game, Duke 86 UNC 78
The main difference in the game was Duke’s top players. Grayson Allen played out of his mind. That shouldn’t come as a shock because everyone knew Allen was going to come in laser focused with the recent struggles as a team and the controversies regarding his foul play. Allen was the best player on the floor the entire night. He scored 25 points on 7-12 shooting from distance despite his limited minutes because of foul trouble. In these big games, 3’s are often worth more than the 3 points on the scoreboard because of the momentum gained by the crowd’s eruption every time Duke cashed in from deep. Allen started the game strong by hitting a few deeps threes, but also closed the game off with a big dunk to go up by 6 with just a few minutes left. Allen was the star from the tip to when he fouled out and was much better than any other player on the court last night.
In addition, Kennard had a quiet 20 points, only making 2 three pointers, but was efficient the entire game. Jason Tatum also had a huge night making highlight plays with his dunk on Kennedy Meeks and a game-clinching three to go along with his 19 points.
For North Carolina, they were led by Justin Jackson, who had the tough task of guarding Grayson Allen for the whole night, and Joel Berry, who put up nice numbers, but his impact was barely noticed. It should be noted that UNC was without their big man Isaiah Hicks. Hicks would have given UNC a big advantage inside that might have been the difference in the game. However, he wasn’t able to go and the pressure shifted to Tony Bradley, a freshman, and senior, Kennedy Meeks. Over the past few years, UNC has dominated Duke inside, but Meeks and Bradley struggled mightily to do anything against Duke’s frontcourt. Meeks had only 9 points, and more importantly, only 5 rebounds, whereas Bradley contributed 8 points off the bench, but only hauled in 3 rebounds. UNC, without Hicks, couldn’t take advantage of the glass greatly diminishing their chances of winning Thursday night.
Justin Jackson needs to be commended for his incredible game last night. He guarded Grayson Allen the entire night, and because of the lack of offensive firepower, had to carry the team offensively by scoring 21 points. However, this ended up being very detrimental to the outcome of the game. While Allen and the rest of the Duke stars had a lighter workload, Jackson had to carry the team for most of the game, making it difficult to preserve the energy needed to hit clutch shots down the stretch. Therefore, Duke took advantage and won the game with clutch plays from Allen, Kennard, and Tatum.
In the end, Duke has more star power than UNC. Berry and Jackson are great players, but they haven’t shown the ability to take over games like Grayson Allen, mostly because they are good shooters, not great. They can’t create any shot they want and knock it down like we saw last night with Grayson Allen. However, UNC has much more depth than Duke (UNC played 10 players, whereas Duke only played 8) and that should only improve once Pinson gets healthier and Hicks returns from his ankle injury.
After Duke’s rough start to the ACC season, they are still in a tough position to compete for an ACC regular season title. However, if they play like they did last night, it will be tough for any team to beat them. UNC is still sitting in the driver’s seat of the ACC and shouldn’t feel down about last night’s lost. They lost on the road in the toughest environment in sports to their number one rival. It happens to almost every UNC team that plays in Cameron. They have a tough schedule coming up, opening the possibility for a Duke-UNC showdown March 4th for the ACC title. It is unlikely, but possible if Duke wins out and UNC drops a few games because of their brutal remaining schedule (without including their game against Duke, 3 of their next 5 games are against top 15 teams.)