In what may turn out to be the marquee win of its season, the North Carolina men’s basketball team (12-6, 7-4 ACC) defeated its perennial rival, the Duke Blue Devils (7-7, 5-5 ACC), at Cameron Indoor Stadium in a close 91-87 game.
UNC opened the first half shooting well, putting together an 11-3 run highlighted by five points from senior forward Garrison Brooks and 3-pointers from first-year guard Kerwin Walton and junior forward Leaky Black. Duke tried to keep it close with deep balls from DJ Steward and Joey Baker, but Brooks also played solidly on defense, keeping Duke center Mark Williams quiet on the offensive end and getting a steal that led to a 3-pointer from senior guard Andrew Platek.
This gave the Tar Heels a seven-point lead that they’d hold going into the second media timeout, with Brooks’ 10 points on 4-5 shooting guiding UNC to a 28-21 lead.
But UNC’s penchant for turnovers began to get the better of it. Turnovers from Brooks, Bacot and Platek allowed Duke to claw back into the game. With a lay-in from Blue Devil forward Jalen Johnson, Duke claimed its first lead of the game at 32-30. When the buzzer sounded for halftime, both teams combined for 18 turnovers as UNC clawed back to hold onto a tenuous 41-39 lead.
UNC opened the second period with a Bacot tip-in off a rimmed-out Love layup. After a jumper from Black, UNC extended the lead to double-digits at 55-45, with a Sharpe basket later extending it to 12 with 14 minutes to play.
With just over eight minutes left, Duke forward Matthew Hurt finally seemed to wake up, scoring five quick points after some back-and-forth to make it a one-possession game. Love and Duke’s Jordan Goldwire then scored consecutively from deep, leaving the score at 72-70 in favor of the Tar Heels with just under seven minutes to play.
A deep strike from Walton extended UNC’s lead to 77-72, but Wendell Moore Jr.’s 3-pointer brought the gap to just two yet again. Hurt’s next turnaround jumper brought the scores even once more, but Hurt fouled out soon after, leaving the Blue Devils without the ACC’s second-leading scorer.
Though the turnovers didn’t stop, the Tar Heels kept the scoring up. Going into the last minute, the scores sat at a tight 88-83, but consecutive Blue Devil scores brought the deficit to just one point with 17 seconds to play, with a free throw from Black making it two. A traveling call on Moore sealed the deal, with two more free throws from Black making it a four-point game. That lead held, and the Tar Heels ran out the game as 91-87 winners.
Who stood out?
Love had a standout game, scoring a career-high 25 points on an efficient 9-16 shooting, including a remarkable 4-5 tally from deep. He was one of six Tar Heels to score double-digits in the game, Bacot following him with 16 points and a three-way tie for third between Black, Brooks and Walton, all with twelve.
When was it decided?
In true UNC-Duke fashion, this one came down to the wire. Black hit a free throw to bring UNC to 89, and a subsequent traveling call on Moore gave the Tar Heels possession. By the time Duke bricked a desperation three, Black had hit two more free throws and the four-point lead was already too much to overcome.
Why does it matter?
Both sides of the blue blood rivalry have had deeply underwhelming seasons to this point, but this matchup offers a chance for redemption through the idea that, at the very least, one team was able to defeat its most-hated rival. With a win over the Blue Devils, the Tar Heels can at least hold their heads high, knowing that the greatest rivalry in college basketball ended in favor of the lighter shade of blue.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels take a short break before taking on the Miami Hurricanes on Monday, Feb. 8, at 7 p.m.
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