Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s farewell tour has seen a myriad of parting gifts — including a Louisville Slugger bat and a bottle of Maker's Mark bourbon.
But in his final trip to the Smith Center, the best gift the Chapel Hill villain could even hope for would be a blowout win to mark his 50th victory over the rival Tar Heels.
And the Blue Devils, led by forward AJ Griffin, did not disappoint. In its 256th meeting with its archrival, the North Carolina men’s basketball team (16-7, 8-4 ACC) fell to No. 9 Duke (19-3, 9-2 ACC), 87-67, in the Smith Center on Saturday night.
The Blue Devils struck first, with forward Paolo Banchero immediately hitting a fadeaway. Shortly after, Griffin hit a 3-pointer for a quick 5-0 lead.
Junior forward Armando Bacot responded with a left-hand layup, igniting the crowd, but Banchero silenced fans with a 3-pointer. Missed shots from sophomore guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis led to Duke center Mark Williams scoring an and-one, hitting the subsequent free throw.
After Griffin’s layup extended the Duke lead to 13-2, the Tar Heels finally scored from downtown with a trey from graduate forward Brady Manek. However, Griffin hit a baseline fadeaway to douse any potential sparks for a Tar Heel run. The Blue Devils led 15-5 at the first media timeout.
Duke forward Wendell Moore Jr. and Williams both hit midrange jumpers, to which Manek responded with a quick catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the left wing, making the score 19-8 with 14 minutes left in the half. On the next possession, Banchero attempted to post up star senior defender Leaky Black from the elbow, but Black poked the ball away. UNC could not capitalize on the fast break opportunity, however, as Davis slipped before he could attempt a floater. Shortly after, a Duke fastbreak gifted Moore an open layup.
The red hot Blue Devils extended their scoring run to 7-0, with guard Trevor Keels knocking down a 3-pointer and Moore muscling his way to a 3-point play. Duke led 26-8 at the second media timeout, with just over 11 minutes to play in the first half.
A sloppy turnover by sophomore guard Kerwin Walton gave Duke senior forward Joey Baker an easy layup. On the next two UNC plays, Bacot scored a left-handed hook shot over Williams, followed by a Manek dunk. After Griffin powered his way to a layup, Davis faked a 3-pointer and drove left, dumping it off to Bacot for a thunderous jam. Manek then hit his third 3-pointer of the night off a fastbreak dish from Love after the media timeout.
With just under three minutes left to play and down 20-37, the Tar Heels used excellent ball movement, as Bacot found Manek wide open in the corner for another 3-pointer, forcing a Duke timeout. The Tar Heels were able to cut their deficit to just 11 after a Black runner off the glass, coupled with free throws from Bacot and Manek. The teams headed into the locker room at halftime, with the Blue Devils leading 39-28.
Griffin opened up the second half with a basket, and another UNC turnover allowed him to hit a 3-pointer on the next play. The Griffin show only continued, as he hit a deep trey and a tough layup to put the Blue Devils up 49-28, forcing UNC head coach Hubert Davis to call a timeout.
The next four minutes saw the same trends, until Love sank his first 3-pointer of the night. A few plays later, Manek faked a pass to the left corner and drained yet another 3-pointer. A Blue Devil turnover led to Love attacking the baseline for a reverse layup to cut the deficit to 16 points at the media timeout.
With under nine minutes to play and UNC down 17, the Tar Heels began pressing full court after Manek and Banchero traded treys. After another Banchero bucket, Walton hit a 3-pointer. Soon after, Griffin’s second airball turned out to be a perfect opportunity for Williams to register his second poster dunk on the night, being fouled by Manek in the process.
The Blue Devils only amped up the onslaught for the rest of the game, while the Tar Heels, who only lost once in the Smith Center in their last 23 home games, couldn't keep up. As Manek checked out of the game for the final time, fans were simultaneously applauding him. The final score? 87-67.
Who stood out?
Manek led the Tar Heels with 21 points, shooting 6-10 from beyond the arc, grabbing six rebounds.
Duke’s Griffin dropped 27 points, shooting 3-6 from 3-point range and going 11-17 on field goals. Banchero, Moore and Keels followed suit, scoring 13, 13 and 11 points, respectively.
When was it decided?
Duke led by as much as 23 with 9:59 left to play in the first half. Every time it seemed like Manek was propelling the Tar Heels to a scoring run, Duke responded in every which way possible. A three from Griffin. A dunk by Williams. An isolation postup by Banchero, who hit a pro-caliber fadeaway over UNC fans’ beloved Leaky Black.
From start to finish, the Tar Heels were utterly dominated by their rivals in just about every aspect of basketball. Duke outrebounded UNC 40-24, shot 47.4 percent from downtown and shared the ball better, dishing 20 assists to North Carolina’s 13.
Why does it matter?
A UNC win would have put the Tar Heels on top of the ACC. Instead, their four-game winning streak was snapped, along with their status of being undefeated at home.
The best rivalry in college basketball is supposed to bring out the best from the two shades of blue. Shooting 57.6 percent from the field, the Blue Devils certainly came to play. They looked poised and methodical — playing as well as their No. 9 ranking implied — as opposed to the unranked Tar Heels, who rushed countless shots.
The first UNC-Duke matchup in a fully-packed Smith Center in almost two years was supposed to be a litmus test to just how good the streaky Tar Heels could be. But tonight, the Tar Heels just couldn’t keep pace with their rivals.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will travel south to face the Clemson Tigers on Tuesday, Feb. 8. Tip-off is at 6 p.m.
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