When Duke hits 3s, the Blue Devils look as good as any team in the country. When they don’t, they struggle.
“When you hit those 3s, you start looking a lot better,” Mike Krzyzewski observed.
A four-game slump from long range came to a close during the second half against the Tar Heels, as Duke used its barrage of 3s to pull away from a 93-81 win. The No. 4 Blue Devils (24-7, 13-5 ACC) have clinched the No. 3 seed for the upcoming ACC Tournament. UNC (23-8, 13-5) will be the fourth seed, and both teams will open play Friday.
The Blue Devils and Tar Heels both had reasons to feel good about the halftime score, with Duke up 40-37. Duke had shot just 2-for-13 from 3-point range. UNC had weathered an early storm, with Duke jumping out to an early 17-4. Marcus Paige attempted just two shots from the field, and James Michael McAdoo played just 12 minutes due to three first-half fouls. The Tar Heels – who rank 345 out of 351 Division-I teams in terms of accuracy from the line – made 10 of 14 in the opening 20 minutes, while Duke took just four attempts. UNC also shot 61.9 percent in the opening half.
McAdoo, though, picked up his fourth foul before the second half was even a minute old, hacking Jefferson down near the basket while he was out of position.
“If he had gotten a better box-out, that foul wouldn’t have been called,” UNC coach Roy Williams said.
Without McAdoo, UNC’s offense stalled, as Duke opened the second half on a 13-4 run. With the coaching staff imploring the Blue Devils to keep shooting, back-to-back 3s from Quinn Cook and Andre Dawkins put Duke ahead 53-41 with 15:33 left. Duke opened 4-for-6 from deep to begin the half, and when Hood made his second 3 of the game, putting Duke up 62-46, Roy Williams was forced to call a timeout.
The Tar Heels did break that huddle and go on a quick 5-0 run, forcing Krzyzewski to call a quick timeout, but after that, it was all Duke. It appeared Jabari Parker unofficially ended the game with a 3 that put the Blue Devils up 74-55 with 8:31 left, blowing a kiss as a chef does after he’s satisfied with his dish. He finished with a game-high 30 points on 10-for-17 shooting, becoming the first Blue Devil to score 30 on UNC since Nolan Smith in 2011. He seemed more comfortable carrying the team offensively, aggressively driving the lane, knowing he would either make the shot or draw the foul (or both).
“He had his best spirit to score tonight,” Krzyzewski said of Parker. “It wasn’t just smooth, he had to make plays against big guys.”
Duke couldn’t completely ditch one of its bad habits though – burying an opponent late. Thornton fouled Paige on a long 3-point attempt, which swished in. Paige completed the four-point play to cut the lead to single digits, 81-73, with 2:50 remaining. On the inbounds, Cook threw a pass that McAdoo intercepted, and Paige launched another 3 that was waived off only when Brice Johnson touched it above the cylinder. Sulaimon, though, turned the ball over again on the ensuing inbounds, but the following Paige attempt from deep wouldn’t go. Duke won it at the free-throw line from there.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had said after the Virginia Tech game the five-man, line-change substitutions would be a thing of the past, but they were back on Saturday. The senior-heavy starting lineup – Tyler Thornton, Dawkins, Hood, Parker and Josh Hairston – gave the Blue Devils a verve they had lacked Wednesday at Wake Forest. Defensively, players were diving in passing lanes, harassing the Tar Heels into six turnovers and just six points in the first 7:30. Duke’s second line – Quinn Cook, Matt Jones, Rasheed Sulaimon, Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee – contributed to the early success as well.
The Tar Heels had their 12-game winning streak snapped and were once again reminded how important McAdoo and Paige are to their success. Going forward, there can’t be halves where Paige takes just two shots in a half, and McAdoo must play smarter, not picking up needless fouls.
For Duke, the win salvaged a regular season that began with visions of the Final Four in the Cowboys’ stadium in Arlington. Coincidentally, Dallas coach Jason Garrett and quarterback Tony Romo watched Saturday from behind the Duke bench in their Duke polos, and former Cowboys coach Barry Switzer watched from the baseline. The Blue Devils would like nothing more than to repay the visit on the first weekend in April. North Carolina wouldn’t mind going either.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley
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