Duke Knocks Off Bitter Rival North Carolina To Punch Ticket to ACC Tournament Final

Photo courtesy of Robert Cole.

By David Cordova

Whenever the subject of the ACC comes to mind, there are always two teams that are brought into the conversation, which are Duke and North Carolina. The two programs, which are about 10 miles away from each other, are part of one of the most historical rivalries in college basketball.

Every year, when both teams play against each other, it is bound to be a sold-out affair with thousands of fans on hand to root for their respective teams, whether it’s at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, or at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill. There have been many moments over the years that keeps the rivalry interesting and countless players that have played in the NBA from those schools. The mystique of a Duke-Carolina game is something that can’t be duplicated anyplace else.

This season, both teams split the season series. On February 9th, in Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Blue Devils, then ranked No. 18 in the country, beat the Tar Heels by eight, 86-78. Then last Saturday, March 4th, in the regular-season finale, UNC, now ranked No. 5 in the country, would send Duke, ranked No. 17 nationally, home with a loss, as they avenged their defeat at the Dean Smith Center, by seven, 90-83.

Six days later, both teams would meet up again in the biggest stage of all, the ACC Tournament, for the third time this season. This game would take place in none other than the Barclays Center, in Brooklyn, New York. The Tobacco Road rivalry being brought out to the Big Apple would bring out excitement and also fan support for both teams, as the chance at making the championship was on the line.

Would Duke, seeded fifth in the tournament knock off UNC, ranked No. 1? Or would the Tar Heels deliver another victory just like last week? The results below would tell the whole story.

Duke 93, North Carolina 83

The start of the game was all North Carolina, as the Tar Heels, as the scoring of Kennedy Meeks would help bring them ahead, 10-4, with 16:28 to go in the first half. But then came Duke with three free throws from Luke Kennard and a layup by Amile Jefferson to bring them within one, 10-9, with 15:21 to go.

The Tar Heels would continue to exercise their potent attack by going to the hole every time they had the ball in their possession, as they would take an eight-point lead, 21-13, with 10:54 to go. But then Grayson Allen would hit two straight three-pointers for Duke to cut the deficit to two, 21-19, with 9:21 to go.

As the game went on, North Carolina would maintain their poise defensively and on the low block and would stick to their fast break offense, as they would go on a 12-4 run, highlighted by three-pointers by Justin Jackson and Nate Britt, as the Heels would raise their lead to ten, 33-23, with 6:56 to go. Although they struggled as far as three-point shooting, they would trump the Blue Devils in all of the other categories.

But Duke would stay motivated, with Allen and Jayson Tatum leading the way. They would then cut the deficit to six, 48-42, with 36 seconds to go. But the Tar Heels would go into the break leading by seven, 49-42. Throughout the first half, North Carolina shot 56% from the field and Duke would shoot 43%.

The Tar Heels would start the second half still in the lead, executing their strategy as they had done before. North Carolina would go up thirteen, 61-48, with 13:53 to go. But Duke would make a run, with Kennard completing a four-point play, which would lead to the Blue Devils trailing by seven, 61-54, with 12:59 to go.

Then Allen would score five straight points and then Frank Jackson would make a layup to cut the deficit to two, 63-61, with 11:06 to go. Moments later, Jackson would hit a three-pointer with 9:01 to go to bring the Blue Devil lead up one, 66-65.

However, the Tar Heels would not go down so easily, as they would tie the score at 70-70, with 6:29 to go, after a free throw by Britt. But this time, the Blue Devils would be in control, going on a 7-0 run to bring the lead to seven, 77-70, with 5:30 to go after a dunk by Harry Giles III. As the game got closer to the end, it showed that the Blue Devils were eager to get this victory.

The Tar Heels, highly motivated in the beginning of the game, would falter in the second half and would not recover, as the Blue Devils would punch their ticket to the ACC championship game.

Tatum would lead Duke with 24 points and seven rebounbds, Kennard would add 20 points and Allen contributed 18 points and five assists. For North Carolina, Meeks added 19 points and 12 rebounds, Isaiah Hicks added 19 points and seven rebounds and Jackson added 16 points in the loss.

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