Duke 79, North Carolina 73, FINAL: A thrilling last few minutes that included a game-clinching dunk from Smith, who finished with a staggering 34 points. Much more to come tomorrow morning on dukechronicle.com
Duke 70, North Carolina 64, 2:51 left in the second half: 31 points. Nolan Smith has played out of his mind, and his energy is infectious out there. If Duke manages to pull off this comeback for real, he’s taking player of the game honors.
Of course, Duke’s defense hasn’t been slacking either. Even with some chippy moments (Exhibit A being Barnes shoving Curry with 6:13 left), the defense has held the Tar Heels to force bad shots and even one shot clock violation. This comeback is as much because of it as well as Smith and Curry.
Duke 62, North Carolina 59, 6:54 left in the second half: Easily the game’s most thrilling stretch there. And it wasn’t possible without someone previously best known as Stephen’s brother.
Curry hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to four, then he drilled a jumper to cut it to two, then on the next Duke possession he pump faked his defender, the defender flies past, and he nonchantely drills another jumper to tie the game. It was seven straight points for the previously unheralded sophomore, and he reveled in his incredible accomplishment.
“Let’s go! I’m not playing!” he screamed with 9:55 left.
By now, North Carolina began to look rattled. Kendell Marshall was fouled, went to the line and bricked his first layup as the arena got as loud as it got all night. On Duke’s next trip down the court, Smith drove and dished to Ryan Kelly, who drilled a three to give Duke its first lead of the night.
By the 8:23-mark, with it was absolutely rocking in here, Nolan hit a runner and was fouled, making the free throw but not before running to the student section and beating his chest at the fans.
Just an amazing comeback by Duke.
North Carolina 45, Duke 47, 11:49 left in the second half: The comeback by Duke would not be possible without a major improvement in the Blue Devil rebounding game. It’s light-years better than it was in the first. Still no offensive production in the paint coming from it, but the rebounders are getting boards that they can dish out to open 3-point shooters.
Open 3-point shooters like… Seth Curry! Curry has 11 so far, including seven in this half alone, and he was responsible for another one of the game’s great plays. With 13:40 left, the sophomore was being guarded tightly, so he stepped back and drilled what looked like a three but is controversely ruled a two.
Smith is also playing out of his mind right now. He’s got 10 in the second, including a brilliant start-and-stop move that led to a layup with 16:15 left and a jumper at 14:14 where he recovered a loose ball to cut the North Carolina lead to four. The momentum was building and building after that play—then Plumlee was called for a charge. Smith could tell that it killed the rally—he grimaces and fake hits the referee.
North Carolina 43, Duke 37, 17:20 left in the second half: Duke’s back in it.
Whatever words or clipboards were thrown around in the locker room at halftime, we will never know, but Duke came out this half with a renewed vigor on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. The Blue Devils forced back-to-back traveling calls on the Tar Heels, and pulled off a 4-point possession on their first trip down the court.
When Smith went down hard at 17:45—falling on the ground and curling up in pain—an intense look came over his face. He hit his first free throw, then missed the second back iron. The ball was tipped, Singler snagged it and tossed it to Curry, who hit that 3-pointer which brought the house down. The fact that it caused Williams to immediately call a timeout didn’t hurt matters.
North Carolina 43, Duke 29, HALFTIME: It’s all about the transition buckets for the Tar Heels, and seemingly all of them are coming off Duke misses.
One good example of the devastating transition offense North Carolina possesses came at the 2:30-mark, when Miles Plumlee missed his second free throw, the ball was tipped, and Barnes snagged it, taking it all the way to the house for a layup despite the foul. The fact that Barnes, a small forward, was able to make it to the basket without much difficulty underscores just how much quicker the Tar Heels looked in the first half.
North Carolina went 17-for-36 in that half (47 percent). Duke shot 33.3 percent. North Carolina is also dominating the boards, grabbing 27 rebounds to the Blue Devils’ 18.
North Carolina 34, Duke 26, 3;22 left in the first half: Mason Plumlee can not be playing any worse for Duke right now. He’s only scored zero points. He’s getting constantly outrebounded by Henson and Zeller, and he only has two boards. He was also completely gassed until Krzyzewski mercifully pulled him at the 4-minute mark. The Tar Heel bigs are running laps around Plumlee, and I’m not sure if there’s anything that can change that. Zeller now has 10 points and seven rebounds, while Henson has 10 points, as well.
On another note, and I’m curious to see if this is easily seen by those watching at home: The crowd tonight is not nearly as loud as it has been in past years. Not much energy, not nearly as much life as there normally is for this rivalry contest. At the TV-timeout, it was even drowned out by a “Tar Heels” chant, led by, improbably, Rasheed Wallace. Maybe, if Duke gets back in the game, this will change.
North Carolina 27, Duke 19, 7:44 left in the first half: Stupid mistakes and an ineffective offense are killing the Blue Devils right now. It’s silly things, too, like Mason Plumlee having the opportunity to lead fast break with 9:29 left in the half, and then getting called for a double dribble instead that gives the ball back to North Carolina.
There are few bright spots for Duke at this point, but the foul trouble North Carolina may soon be in is one: Twice Dexter Strickland went for a fast break layup, and twice Singler stopped him by drawing a charge. Strickland now sits on the bench with three fouls, and it’s doubtful that he’ll see the court for a while. Duke is in the bonus.
North Carolina 25, Duke 19, 10:57 left in the first half: A warning: Posts are going to be rare—the Internet has completely gone out in Cameron, so it’s tough to get anything up.
Duke was certainly knocked in their backsides at the beginning of the game. The Tar Heels came out on a 7-0 run and dominated the paint in the process. At one point, while they were up 12-7, they had 10 of those points in the paint.
Smith has been one of the only bright spots for Duke, with 10 points, but it’s taking him a ton of shots to do it. He not only uncharacteristically missed a couple of layups at the beginning of the game, but is having a difficult time getting it going from elsewhere in the field.
On the other side of the court, Henson, surprisingly, has been a model of consistency, knocking down shots, grabbing every board that comes his well and generally proving impossible to guard. “Gumby,” who has eight points and five boards, may be a difference-maker tonight.
Fans may be getting restless. Few people could have seen this start from North Carolina.
PREGAME: The official starting lineups for tonight will be…
North Carolina—Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Dexter Strickland, Kendall Marshall
Duke—Kyle Singler, Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Nolan Smith, Tyler Thornton
PREGAME: A few scattered thoughts while waiting for the game to start:
Dick Vitale is out meeting with the student section now—he crowd surfed, and wore a Crazies hat as well as blue frat sunglasses. Good to see he’s still up to the same stuff.
Just to give you an idea of the type of conditions reporters sitting on press row go through for this game, I’m currently writing this as specks of blue paint fall on my keyboard. Blue paint, it turns out, does not dry immediately. Vitale has it smudged all over his khakis and shirt after his crowd surfing adventure.
The cheer sheet, while being a tradition I generally disagree with, does have some gems this year. A full collection of Roy Williams’ is on the sheet, including the infamous jab to Carolina fans. Dexter Strickland also has a full section including this conversation between him and Williams after running a set play at practice:
Williams: “Dexter, what are you doing?”
Strickland: “Coach, I don’t know what to do.”
Williams: “Well, whose fault is that, mine or yours? This is practice number 53, son!”
PREGAME: Forty minutes ago, the only people in the stadium, save a few employees and security officers, were Nolan Smith and Todd Zafirovski. Smith was shooting, Zafirovski rebounding. It was a quiet scene. It was the calm before the storm.
Now, that crowd has increased to include Dick Vitale, Erin Andrews and the entire graduate student section. Music is blaring. Undergraduate students are finally starting to file in, and the energy in Cameron is growing more and more electric. It’s starting to feel more like game time.
Stick with us all night for analysis, commentary and the stuff you can’t get from ESPN.
But until tip-off, be sure to check out our many posts today, covering every single bit of news to come before this contest.