Talk about a tale of two halves. In the first two minutes, the born-again North Carolina Tar Heels rolled past Duke. They pushed the ball up the court with Kendall Marshall. They owned the inside with both Tyler Zeller and John Henson. Harrison Barnes was shutting down Kyle Singler. Only Nolan Smith was able to put the ball in the basket. That was the first half.
In the second half, Seth Curry joined Smith in the scoring department. Mason, Miles and Kelly began to take control of the boards. Overall, Duke was able to slow down Carolina’s attack. No more fast breaks, no more easy baskets.
Duke won the second half, 50-30…winning the game, 79-73. The win gives Duke sole possession of first place in the ACC.
SO WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
NOLAN, NOLAN, NOLAN
It was almost all about Nolan Smith. Like I said early, he was the only Duke capable of scoring early. Without his points, Duke could a have been down by 20 or more. When Duke went on their run to start the second half, he scored eight of Duke’s first 12. He finished with a career-high 34 points. I feel like I’m writing “career high” almost every game with Nolan. At some point I feel like I’m going to see him put up 40 in game.
He scored every way imaginable. He hit the three, he hit long two’s. He drove and hit mid-range jumpers, runners and most impressively, lay ups up and around Carolina’s shot blockers.
Of course lost in his 34-point effort was his defense. In the first half, the coaching staff rotated different guards onto Marshall. Smith would often be guarding Strickland or McDonald. Marshall was having little trouble driving to the lane.
In the second half, Smith was locked on Marshall and the freshman was never able to simulate what he accomplished in the first half. In the first 20 minutes, Marshall beat his man to the lane and often found an open big man for an easy lay in. In the second, Smith stayed in front of him and forced him to his right. Marshall passed the ball to his teammates on the outside, where they often missed the long ones.
A SIDE OF CURRY WITH THAT
We all talk about it every game…who is going to step up to be the third-option for this Duke team. It can be almost anyone (Mason, Miles, Kelly, Curry, Dawkins). However, more and more that man stepping up is Curry. This is the third time he’s scored in double figures in his last five games. Tonight though, he wasn’t the third option, he was the second option. His points were key to Duke’s success.
Check out this stat. Over a 12 minute period ending in the first half and into the second half (about nine and a half minutes into the second half), Curry and Nolan Smith were the only Duke players to make a basket. Remember, it was his last second basket before the half that cut the lead to 14. Hell, forget Nolan…down 51-47, it was Curry who scored nine straight points (all on long jumpers) that finally got the game tied up for the first time all night at 56-56. It was his free throw attempts at the five-minute mark that gave Duke their biggest lead (four points), but when he missed the third free throw, Duke got it back after Henson traveled. Nolan was able to knock down a basket and Duke was suddenly up six.
Listen, this wasn’t too shocking. He’s a great scorer…when he’s shooting in Cameron. He’s had ten double-digit scoring games and all of them but one came at home. The one road double-digit game came against UNC-Greensboro (not much of a road game). Outside of Durham he only averages just over six points per game.
He needs to find his scoring touch away from home. Then Curry will truly become a good/great player.
BIG ON BOARDS (FOR AT LEAST 12 MINUTES)
I said it during the game and I’ll say it again, just imagine if Duke had an inside scorer like Ty Zeller (hell, even Jon Henson). With the shooters that Duke has on the outside, they would be unbeatable if they had a guy who could receive a pass inside with their back to the basket, make a move and score.
Better yet, a player like Zeller is most dangerous on the offensive rebound. Not once did he grab a offensive rebound and pass it back out. Not once did he grab a offensive rebound and just stand there waiting for someone to tell him what to do. He grabbed the rock and put it back in. Mason, Miles, Ryan…were you guys watching? Coach Wojo, the man in charge of our big men, were you taking notes?
Listen, don’t get me wrong. These guys came up big in other ways. The three-headed monster of Kelly and the Plumlees did a fine job in the second half on the boards. Curry and Smith can hit every basket, but it wouldn’t have mattered if these guys couldn’t keep the Tar Heels off the glass for at least a little while.
For the game, the trio and Singler grabbed a solid 32 rebounds. They turned a negative eight rebounding disadvantage in the first half into a plus three advantage in the second half. During the first 12-minutes of the second half, North Carolina grabbed zero offensive rebounds. During that same stretch, Duke grabbed eight offensive boards. That’s why Duke was able to rally.
Of course the only reason Carolina was able to hang with Duke in the end was their rebounding. In the final eight minutes of the game, Carolina missed eight of their 11 “first shots” in a possession (they turned it over twice). Yet, they managed to grab a total of eight offensive rebounds. They made four of the baskets, scoring eight second-chance points.
SINGLER AND THE SHOOTING WOES
I really expected Kyle Singler, a senior in his last home game against North Carolina, to have a big night. On the offensive side of the ball, I was wrong. He had a terrible night.
The Tar Heels game-planned to stop Singler and it worked. Most of the heavy lifting was down by freshman Harrison Barnes. It started off early on Duke’s third possession. Singler came off his baseline screen, popped open for a mid-range jumper that was blocked by Barnes. I think that block set the tone. The next time you saw Singler taking that, he was a good two-feet further back. It’s never a good thing if you’re taking a 19-foot two-point jumper.
Clearly Singler was bothered by Carolina’s (and especially Barnes’) length. He just never looked comfortable taking a jumper tonight. He shot an awful 3-17 from the floor and he didn’t make a basket in the final 22+ minutes of the game. I’d be willing to bet that was the longest stretch he’s ever gone without a basket in a very long time.
It is this length that is why most do not project Singler to be anything more than a role player in the NBA. If his three-point shot isn’t falling, then he’s not going to score a lot of points.
Now having said that, I think Singler deserves some heavy praise for one element that often gets overlooked…his defense. As Kyle struggled from the floor, all the talk on Twitter was about how good of a job Barnes was doing shutting him down. Fair enough, but no one was talking about the fact that Barnes was pretty much non-existent, especially in the second half.
After scoring seven points in the first half, Barnes had more fouls (two) and turnovers (two) in the second half as he had made shots. He was just 1-4 from the floor in the final 20 minutes, failing to hit a shot in the last seven minutes when UNC really needed their go-to guy to step up. In fact, his only basket in the second half came on a offensive rebound/put back. Remember this is a guy who was averaging 23ppg over his last three. He was the guy all the “experts” were declaring BACK!
Kyle Singler did a fantastic job of not just staying in front of him when Harrison had the ball, but simply denying him the ball. Barnes never got into the flow of Carolina’s half-court offense. You could almost tell he was getting frustrated at the end.
There was one particular moment when Carolina was down six with about four to play, he took the ball and tried his hardest to make something happen. His head was down the whole time. He wasn’t going to pass this ball. However, Singler gave him nothing and he threw up a wild jumper. He missed it (Henson was able to rebound it and lay it in).
MARSHALL…NOT SO BAD
You have to hand it to North Carolina’s freshman point guard. He did a fine job. He never looked rattled and in that first half, he looked damn good. Although not the fastest player with the ball in his hands, he’s an excellent passes and he’s only going to get better.
Even early in the second half, when Carolina was struggling, you couldn’t blame him. He still was able to get the ball to open receivers, they just couldn’t hit the shots. Fact is, the Tar Heels were just 2-14 from three.
Did we learn anything new? Not really. Duke is still not as good as they were with Kyrie Irving. This Carolina team IS still better than the November Carolina team. There is no shame in losing to the Blue Devils in Cameron. You have to believe that if this game was played in Chapel Hill, the results would have been different. Ironically, if Duke is able to pull one more game ahead of UNC prior to their next meeting in the final weekend, Duke might have nothing to play for in that game. It’s not easy to win those situations.