Fueled by a 10-point lead at halftime, the No. 8 North Carolina men’s basketball team powered past top-ranked Duke, 88-72, for a second straight win over the Blue Devils.
Coming into the game, UNC had not beaten Duke in back-to-back games since the 2009 season, and last took down a No. 1 Blue Devils team 13 years ago.
Just 34 seconds into the game, with UNC leading 2-0, Zion Williamson slipped, injuring his knee and leaving the game. That short appearance ended the first-year’s night as quickly as it began, and just might have altered the trajectory of the rest of the game.
From that moment on, the Tar Heels capitalized on the absence of the 6-foot-7, 285-pound projected lottery pick, lengthening out to a double-digit lead midway through the first half. Though the game drew close near the break, UNC entered the locker room leading by 10. The Tar Heels have not lost a game this season after leading at the break — a stat held intact the rest of the way.
The lead was due in large part to the scoring power of senior forward Luke Maye, who led all players 18 points and six rebounds. Maye continued to flourish without Williamson guarding him the rest of the way — leading his team on a 13-0 run that began just over a minute into the second half.
For much of the half, the Tar Heels lead hovered at or around 20 points — but even that was not enough to count the Blue Devils out just yet. Recently, Duke marched all the way back from a deficit of more than 20 in the second half to beat Louisville.
But UNC kept the pressure on the rest of the way. With veterans Maye and Cameron Johnson continuing to carry the offensive scoring power, UNC built up a lead that was too much to overcome.
A significant advantage in a number of categories — defensive rebounding, field goal percentage and points in the paint — helped UNC tip the balance and beat its rival, even as R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish both put up 33 and 27-point point performances, respectively.
Who stood out?
Two veterans stuck out for their play:
Luke Maye was the most prolific scorer of the night, even with a number of highly-touted newcomers on the court. Maye led his team on the offensive end from the start, eventually finishing with 30 points and 15 rebounds in his final trip to Durham.
Cameron Johnson did not have the shooting night he usually does, but he still contributed heavily to the win. Bringing down seven rebounds and scoring 26 points, Johnson left his mark on the rivalry game as well.
When was it decided?
While UNC put itself ahead early on, the game was far from decided until the final minutes. Down to the final possessions, Duke hoped to go on a run it often has down the stretch against top-10 teams, but the Tar Heels continued to put on the pressure.
In the final minutes, when most teams have crumbled against the Blue Devils, North Carolina kept the pace and relied upon a lead that was too great for Duke to overcome.
Why does it matter?
A win over the No. 1 team in the country should not be minimized. The last time UNC beat a top-ranked Duke squad was in 2006, when Tyler Hansbrough led the scoring attack for the Tar Heels.
But above all, the win proves crucial for the Tar Heels in the ACC standings after losing to No.3 Virginia at home nine days ago. By closing out a win in the rivalry game, UNC is 7-0 in the conference away from the Smith Center. That bodes well for postseason play and conference standings moving forward — with a rematch set on March 9 to wrap up the regular season.
When do they play next?
UNC will be back in Chapel Hill on Saturday, Feb. 23, to play Florida State at 3:45 p.m.
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