As Coach Mike Krzyzewski and his Blue Devils (18-5, 6-4) took their home floor at Cameron Indoor Stadium against fellow adversary Roy Williams and their long-time rival North Carolina Tar Heels (21-4, 9-2), we knew we were in for a treat. There’s something about the UNC-Duke rivalry that just gives me the goosebumps, I feel like a kid on Christmas morning in anticipation of the new gifts to come. I can honestly say I am neither a Tar Heel or Blue Devil fan in the least, but this matchup is just too good not to get hyped for both historically and currently. It seems as if every time these teams play there’s something a stake and one of if not both are serious title contenders to cut down the nets. In fact, this game marks the 125 consecutive game in which at least one of these teams was ranked going in. Coming in UNC was the 8th ranked team in the nation sitting atop the ACC, while the Dukies, winners of three in a row, ranked at number 18 have their leader back in Coach K and have appeared to right the ship.
The crowd was eager as Kennedy Meeks and Amile Jefferson stood toe to toe for the opening tip, won by Jefferson the crowd was electric from the start. Grayson Allen came out red hot nailing his first two threes. The first half was alike any classic UNC-Duke matchup, an energy packed back and forth seesaw, with no team able to build more than a five-point lead. Versatile swingman and 6”8 junior, Justin Jackson put on a show with fourteen first half points, making his claim to NBA scouts why he deserves to be a first-round pick. Not so fast though says Allen, anything you can do I can do better. As the first half comes to a close Allen pulls up from deep and makes another three to give the Dukies the lead and the momentum going into the half.
As the second half started Duke continued their hot shooting ascending to a 51-43 lead on another Grayson Allen 3 pointer. Then soon after taking control with an emphatic dunk by freshmen Jayson Tatum which set the stadium on fire. But just like any ol’ classic UNC-Duke matchup right when you think one team has control, the other comes back swinging, I love it. Led by like the likes of their three best players Joel Berry, Kennedy Meeks, and Justin Jackson a Jackson layup quickly regained the Tar Heels the lead at 60-59. Going on an 8-0 run of their own the Tar Heels went up five and once again right when things are going bleak for Coach K’s squad. Bang. Another three from the aforementioned Allen, erupting the crowd like a volcano. Then with 8:35 to go a very controversial foul was called on Allen fighting over a Meeks screen in which his legs were undoubtedly more than shoulder width apart. Theoretically this should have resulted in a blocking foul on Meeks, instead, it would be Allen’s fourth, resulting in him having to go to the bench. In Allen’s absence, there was a heavy dose of the crafty Luke Kennard, who quietly added 20, as well as Tatum who finished with a respectable 19. After a Jackson three and Joe Berry free throw to pull within two, no one other than Grayson Allen makes his seventh three-pointer giving him 25 for the game and to put the Dukies up 5 with just 1:18 to go. Allen would foul out on the next play but the damage was already done. Duke defended and made their free throws (13-16), something the Tar Heels were unable to do (10-18). The final nail in the coffin and exclamation point was Tatum diving to the floor and ripping the ball away from Tar Heels off a Berry miss with 20 seconds to go. Duke would go on to win by the score of 86-78, what a game.
This was a really well-played game and evenly matched contest, but the two strengths of each two would go on to be the deciding factor. The Tar Heels were without their third-leading scorer and rebounder, Isiah Hicks, Hicks would be heavily missed as North Carolina a team known for its tough physical nature and rebounding was outrebounded by one. Although only by one, there is a strong correlation with North Carolina and their rebounding. In their five losses, they have been outrebounded three times and tied once, they need to dominate the boards to win. As for the Blue Devils, they capitalized on their forte, being the three ball, going 13-27 from deep with seven from Allen alone. That’ll do it. I don’t think this game hurts North Carolina too bad, being without Hicks and on the road in one of the toughest environments in college basketball, they played well, just not well enough. But for Duke, that’s another story, that’s four in a row for them and now they are really starting to click on all cylinders. I wrote about a week ago, how they were starting to gain their feet under them and with Coach K back plus their incredible talent they could be dangerous. This game affirms that thought, the Dukies are really dangerous with the three-headed monster of Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, and Jayson Tatum. Allen now has four straight games of 19 plus points and is genuinely enjoying the game while competing at the highest level which is great to see. It’s not just Allen, the whole team is having fun and seems to thoroughly enjoy playing with one another. Healthy, hot, and now well composed this Duke roster is supremely talented and more than capable of cutting the nets down. Call me crazy, but I have a hunch they will.