Coming into the game, everyone expected a double-digit win out of Duke; but after a sloppy first half and an unmatched intensity that UNC had to start the game, the Blue Devils squeaked by the Tar Heels for a 73-68 win in the first battle of Tobacco Road of the season.
In the first 20 minutes of the game, Duke (22-2, 9-2) shot just 12-of-31 from the field, turned the ball over 11 times and dished out just one assist. North Carolina (16-8, 6-5) won most of the 50-50 balls and was the clear aggressor for most of the half. The Blue Devils were unable to stop the Tar Heels from getting to the basket and couldn’t knock down any of their shots.
However, Duke turned it around in the second half as they got off to a hot start from beyond the arc and held North Carolina to tough shots. Seth Curry, Rasheed Sulaimon and Tyler Thornton all knocked down big three-pointers in the second half and Thornton made a beautiful three-quarters-of-the-court length pass to Cook which gave Duke momentum and the lead. Fouls also proved to be critical since four Blue Devils had four fouls and Duke shot 85% from the charity stripe while North Carolina shot a measly 56.5%.
Although he got off to a slow start, was in foul trouble and turned the ball over four times, Mason Plumlee put together a very nice performance for the Blue Devils as he posted a team-high 18 points and game-high 11 rebounds while coming up big from the free throw line, hitting 6-of-8 from the line including a pair of free throws with 30 seconds left to put the game out of reach for North Carolina. He played tough defense against James McAdoo and hit a few big hook shots.
Quinn Cook also played well for Duke even though he turned the ball over a game-high five times. He co-led the Blue Devils in points with 18, while shooting 50% from the field and knocking down all six of his free throws, including four in the final 17 seconds. He also chipped in six rebounds and a game-high four steals as he was a menace defensively.
Thornton played only 28 minutes, but was a big part of Duke’s win. He made three of his four three-point attempts, which were all important since a couple of them came during the Blue Devils’ comeback, and made an incredible aforementioned pass. Freshman Amile Jefferson also turned in eight rebounds in 20 minutes and helped keep North Carolina from getting even more offensive rebounds.
Curry was cold for much of the game and scored just 11 points, but he also hit two key three-pointers while adding five rebounds. Sulaimon came up with a nice performance in his first rivalry game as he chipped in 13 points and a game-high five assists while shooting 5-of-11 from the field.
The Blue Devils were able to keep the Tar Heels off the offensive glass more in the second half and didn’t let North Carolina get as many good looks from beyond the arc. Duke also cut their number of turnovers in half in the final 20 minutes compared to the first half and shot about 10% better than North Carolina from both the field and beyond the arc on Coach K’s 66th birthday.
The Blue Devils travel to College Park, Maryland next to take on the Terrapins (17-7, 5-6) Saturday at 6pm. Duke defeated Maryland, 84-64, in their last match-up and will play on ESPN this time around.