Written by Bob Holliday, a contributor for WRAL Sports.
Duke’s defensive focus was on R.J. Davis, the top scorer in the ACC, limiting him to just 4 points in the first half. However, they chose to defend Armando Bacot one on one, and after weeks of facing double teams, Bacot took advantage of the open space and dominated in the paint with help from a pep talk from his coach. The Blue Devils also opted to guard 6-7 Harrison Ingram with smaller guards. As part of their strategy to contain Davis, 6’9 Mark Mitchell was also utilized. However, Mitchell only matched up against Ingram late in the game. This decision proved costly as Ingram capitalized with 5-9 three-point shots, shooting over the shorter defenders.
Another potential outcome of the “Stop Davis” tactic may have been a decrease in defensive intensity. Duke is known for their ability to cause turnovers, but UNC, who struggled with 17 turnovers in their recent game against Florida State, only had one in the first half against Duke. This is quite surprising to me.
Due to UNC’s deeper front court, Jon Scheyer had motivation to approach playing against the Tar Heels in a different manner.
Scheyer desired a game played in the half court, where someone other than RJD would take the final shot. Duke chose to frequently leave Elliott Cadeau open, challenging him to make shots. Despite only making 1 of 9 shots, Cadeau disrupted Duke’s game plan in other ways. He frequently pushed the ball down the court, creating a faster pace of play. In the first half, UNC managed to score 10 points on fast breaks. Even when Duke managed to get back on defense, Cadeau and his teammates quickly moved the ball to set up high percentage shots. As a result, UNC shot 51% in the first half and scored 45 points, nearly halfway to 90, a number that would have seemed impossible for Duke’s defense to allow.
Duke did not want the tempo to be like that. The team was behind by 10 points at halftime and had to pick up the pace in the second half in an attempt to catch up.
In the second half, Duke had a shooting percentage of 54%, but they were unable to make any significant gains. Despite reducing the UNC lead to 8 points a few times, they were unable to narrow the gap until the very end of the game.
Duke also experienced a dry spell of three possessions for about six minutes in the second half, leading to a six-point surge by the Tar Heels. After Ingram secured a rebound and made a shot, bringing the score to 63-48, Scheyer called for a time out. This was the largest lead held by Carolina in the game, making Duke’s task in the second half even more challenging.
The Blue Devils were able to make critical shots that helped them catch up in the game. Jared McCain, Kyle Filipowski, and Jeremy Roach each scored at least 20 points, but every time Duke scored, the Tar Heels had a response. The most notable comeback occurred with six minutes remaining when Cormack Ryan attempted a three-pointer. Although he missed, Ingram hustled towards the sideline and managed to save the rebound with a dive. Despite Ingram’s strong hit, Cadeau was quick enough to prevent the ball from crossing the center line. Shortly after, Davis passed the ball to Ryan, who was still outside the three-point line. This time, Ryan didn’t miss and the crowd erupted as the Heels took a 77-64 lead.
Carolina struggled with late free throws and went without scoring a field goal for most of the final 2 ½ minutes. Filipowski’s dunk narrowed the gap to seven points. In all honesty, the score could have been even closer if not for Ryan’s two impressive defensive plays. He used his right hand to block a layup, preventing two points for the other team. Moments later, he stole the ball, halting another scoring opportunity for Duke. This kept the margin at seven points and after Filipowski’s dunk, Bacot responded with one of his own. This sealed UNC’s victory and brought their record to 10-1.
In my pregame analysis, I posed the question “Could UNC prevent Duke from scoring 3-pointers in transition?” The answer proved to be a definite yes.
Duke is currently the top team in the ACC when it comes to three-point shooting, making 40% of their shots in conference games. They are particularly skilled at shooting threes while on the move. However, during the game against Hubert Davis’ team, Jon Scheyer’s shooters struggled with only 5 out of 19 attempts from beyond the arc and just 2 out of 11 in the second half.
Duke managed to score 54 points in the area near the basket and had a 51% shooting accuracy throughout the entire game. However, UNC put in effort to make it difficult for the Blue Devils to score, choosing to allow them to earn two points rather than giving up an easy three-pointer.
The rebounding was nearly equal, which may have surprised Scheyer as he previously criticized his team for not putting in enough effort. UNC is known to be stronger in rebounding statistically, so for Duke to match them on the boards is quite impressive.
The number of turnovers was unexpected. Duke, typically known for careful ball handling, had 11 turnovers compared to UNC’s 5. Many of these turnovers resulted in fast breaks for UNC and increased the tempo of the game.
Fouls and free throws were significant factors in the game. Duke did not attempt a free throw until the second half, but ultimately made 9 out of 11. UNC, on the other hand, took 25 free throws and made 18, which proved to be more than sufficient.
Tyrese Proctor, the lone starting Duke player, did not perform as expected on the offensive end. This sophomore typically scores 11 points per game and shoots 38% from beyond the arc. However, in the game against Chapel Hill, Proctor only managed to score two points. According to Scheyer, this could be attributed to his defensive duties against Davis, which may have fatigued him.
Hubert Davis noted that Filipowski faced a challenge in guarding Bacot, which likely drained his energy. Despite scoring 22 points, Filipowski only made 1 out of 6 three-point attempts. Additionally, he was outrebounded by two of his own teammates.
UNC had an advantage in their bench performance. Seth Trimble utilized his 19 minutes on the court effectively, providing UNC with a well-rested defender against Duke’s strong backcourt. Trimble also contributed 10 points on offense, primarily through fast breaks and aggressive drives to the basket. His impressive give and go with Bacot resulted in a noteworthy score.
Once again, the main focus for me was Duke’s plan to shut down Davis. In the end, R.J. managed to score 17 points, which is only 4 points less than his usual average. However, the question remains whether the outcome was worth the sacrifices made by the Blue Devils. While several Duke players were assigned to stop Davis, Filipowski was left to defend Bacot alone. Unfortunately, he was unable to do so as Bacot scored 25 points on an impressive 10-13 shooting. Not only that, Mando also had a double double with 10 rebounds and 5 assists. This type of 25-10-5 performance had not been seen at UNC in decades.
Ingram was the standout player in the Duke game strategy. Rather than facing the challenge of defending 6’9 Mark Mitchell, known as Harry, he was able to take advantage of nine opportunities to shoot from beyond the arc, shooting over smaller guards. He successfully made five of those shots. With both his mother and sister, a Duke volleyball player named Lauren, cheering him on (although Lauren talked some trash before the game), Harrison scored a total of 21 points. He also impressively grabbed 13 rebounds, had a great blocked shot against Proctor, stole the ball four times, and even made a signature play for the UNC team by diving for a rebound that led to an extra three points.
With the exception of first-year player Jared McCain who contributed 23 points and led Duke with 11 rebounds, Duke’s Scheyer expressed dissatisfaction with his team’s performance. He specifically noted his disappointment with their lack of effort and competitiveness during the game.
The Duke coach eagerly anticipated the practices at the beginning of the week. “This will be a unique opportunity. We will return to training and give our all in competition,” he stated. Duke will host Notre Dame on Wednesday evening.
Meanwhile, UNC will be hosting Clemson, a team that recently experienced another tough defeat. Despite closely trailing Virginia with a score of 66-65 and having possession of the ball, the Tigers opted to shoot a three-pointer that ultimately missed. Although Clemson ranks highly at #37 in the NET rankings, they currently hold 11th place in the ACC with a record of 4-6. Their losses include a double overtime game against Georgia Tech, as well as close games against Duke and Virginia in which they fell short on the final possession.
UNC and Clemson have already faced each other this season, with UNC securing a 65-55 victory in the beginning of January. This win marked the start of UNC’s improved defensive performance and also led to a three-game losing streak for Clemson.
As the ACC enters the second half of the 20-game conference season, Virginia, Duke, and Florida State each have three losses while NC State and Wake Forest have four losses apiece.
The remaining games on UNC’s schedule will have them facing off against several of the aforementioned top teams, as well as a few teams fighting to improve their chances for the NCAA Tournament. UNC will play Miami twice, a team with a record of 6-5. They will also have a home game against strong opponent Virginia Tech, who, like Clemson, is highly regarded by the NET despite a losing record in the ACC. The most challenging game for UNC will be their visit to Charlottesville, where they have not won since 2012.
In March, UNC and Duke will face off again in Cameron. I anticipate that Duke will approach the game differently.