DURHAM –It had to be coming.
Surely the defending national champion Duke Blue Devils wouldn’t allow their heated rivals from down Tobacco Road to come into their house and dominate as thoroughly as North Carolina did in the first half of No. 5 Duke’s 79-73 win on Wednesday without a challenge.
That is exactly what happened – down 43-29 at half, the Blue Devils stormed out of the gates, mounting an 8-0 run that put Duke back in the game.
From there, the Tar Heels never recovered.
“Basketball is about runs,” Harrison Barnes said. “We knew that they would come out with extra intensity because they were down and on their home court, and we weren’t able to match their intensity.”
The oddity is that the entire eight-point run was contained in two four-point possessions that came after Duke senior Kyle Singler grabbed offensive rebounds off of free throws.
In both cases, Singler tapped the ball out of traffic to the perimeter, where Duke offensive players were able to either spot up or find an open teammate behind the arc.
“Two free throws early in the second half they missed, and get the offensive rebound and score there,” UNC coach Roy Williams said.
The first trip started when Singler missed a layup, but Ryan Kelly collected the rebound and drew a foul.
After Kelly made the first free throw, Singler grabbed another offensive rebound. Fourteen seconds later, a Nolan Smith 3-pointer fell through the net.
Eight point game.
“It’s very tough, and that’s just something we need to get better at,” Tyler Zeller said. “I made the mistakes, and I know I have to get better personally.”
Two possessions later, Smith went to the line for two.
After nailing the first, he missed the second – and again, Singler tapped the offensive rebound out to a wide open Seth Curry.
Curry promptly canned a 3-pointer.
Two possessions, eight points and a once-robust 12-point lead had been shaved all the way down to four.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t counter it,” forward John Henson said. “That’s all we had to do was counter it and we still would have won the game, but it was a tough loss. We have to learn from this and get better.”
From there, Duke’s experience and some hot Seth Curry shooting closed the rest of the gap and kept UNC at bay.
But the spot where the Tar Heels let the game get away was in that two minute span just after the start of the second half.
“They kept knocking down shots (after offensive rebounds) and that was a big part of it for them,” Henson said.
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