Twentieth-ranked Duke knocked off fifth-ranked North Carolina 74-73 in Chapel Hill, as North Carolina inexplicably couldn’t win a game they probably should’ve.
As they have for most of the season, Duke went into the game shorthanded. The problem only became more acute when guard Matt Jones left in the first half with an ankle injury, but Duke managed to stick around down a few during the first half.
Still, the Blue Devils should’ve been sunk just six minutes into the second half, when center Marshall Plumlee picked up his third and fourth fouls within 13 seconds. Carolina was already murdering Duke on the boards, and given that Coach K basically only had six players he felt comfortable playing, Plumlee had to stay in the game. He ended up playing 35 minutes, including the final 11.
You’d assume that North Carolina would just repeatedly throw it down low to leading scorer Brice Johnson, who finished the 29 points on 13-17 shooting, and 19 rebounds. But Johnson attempted just two shots—and made them both—in the final 14 minutes of the game, as the Tar Heels opted to hoist jumpers instead. On a related note, North Carolina shoots just 31.6% from three, 303rd best in the nation.
With 1:09 left, Duke sophomore phenom Grayson Allen his two free throws to take a one-point lead. After the two teams traded misses, Johnson pulled down a rebound with 24 seconds left. Roy Williams opted not to call a timeout and let his team attack an unorganized defense, but North Carolina took forever to drive to the basket, and only ended up with a weak, partially blocked Joel Berry II jumper. Speaking after the game, Williams said if he could do it over again he would’ve called time.
Two weeks after being unranked for the first time since 2007, Duke has won five games in a row, including the last three against ranked opponents. Brandon Ingram, who is going to be a very high lottery pick, is figuring it out, and scored 20 points while claiming 10 rebounds. It wasn’t the most efficient 20 points, but tonight Duke needed somebody to be gunning, and besides, Ingram played every single one of the game’s 40 minutes.
Duke is probably going to end up around a four seed in the NCAA Tournament, and it’s anybody’s guess how good they actually are. As for North Carolina—who have lost three of their last five—they give off the vibe of a two seed who is going to crash out against a 15 seed in the first round.
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