Duke knocked off North Carolina on Thursday night with an 86-78 victory in a great game in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
It lacked the drama in the final seconds that we’ve seen in other classic UNC-Duke games, but it was still an exciting, up-tempo exhibition of high-level basketball that was enjoyable to watch.
The win moved the 18th ranked Blue Devils to 19-5 and 7-4 in conference play, now only one game behind North Carolina and Florida State in the loss column. It’s also the fourth straight win for Duke, which finally appears to be finding its rhythm after a season full of injuries and off-court challenges.
The Blue Devils were led to victory by the trio of Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and Jayson Tatum. Allen showed why he was the Preseason National Player of the Year with a game-high 25 points and seven 3-pointers before fouling out in the final minutes.
Kennard showed his array of offensive skills, regularly getting into the paint against UNC’s defense with incredible shots en-route to 20 points.
And freshman Jayson Tatum stepped up on the big stage with a fantastic second half performance, when he scored all of his 19 points.
Duke also had role players chip in for the victory – from Frank Jackson coming off the bench to score 11 points to Matt Jones grabbing a key offensive rebound with 30 seconds remaining to help the Blue Devils secure the victory. The frontcourt players managed to neutralize North Carolina’s rebounding advantage, an area where the Tar Heels are one of the best in the nation. It was a team win in so many ways.
For North Carolina, which was playing without starting forward Isaiah Hicks, the Heels were led by Justin Jackson, who had 21 points and 5 rebounds. However, UNC struggled at the free throw line, where it shot just 10-for-18.
With the win, Duke will now start to again receive buzz as a national title contender, and this group certainly appears to be headed in the right direction. We’ll see if they can follow up this emotional win with another solid performance on Saturday against Clemson.
The ACC regular season title is still a possibility. And if Duke can continue to perform at this level, that’s not the only title that’s still attainable.