DURHAM, N.C.—The UNC Tar Heels struck first Saturday night against the Duke Blue Devils in Durham, taking the first lead of the game on a made Marcus Ginyard free throw. It was their only lead. Duke’s Schmingler—the composite scoring machine of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, whose combined 65 points alone would have bested the Tar Heels by 15—hit consecutive three-pointers, launching a masterful run that put them up by 22 points less than 11 minutes into the contest. And when the game clock expired, ending what’s been an often-surprising ACC regular season for both squads, Duke gave its four seniors a proper sendoff with a 32-point victory over their biggest rivals.
“We played a full 40 minutes,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski after the game. “Our defensive intensity was there throughout. We really cared for the ball offensively.”
Indeed, Duke looked as good as it has all year on its way to the rout of a UNC team that withered against Duke’s swarming man-to-man defense and could do little to control Duke’s motion-heavy offense. The starting Devils perimeter had no turnovers and just nine overall, while UNC gave it away 15 times and grabbed nine less rebounds than their opponent.
The defeat didn’t take long: In a lights-out first half, Duke shot better than 51 percent from the field and hit seven of 13 three-point shots. Smith landed and was fouled on consecutive layups, too, converting both three-point plays. UNC showed a spark of life late in the half, going on a 10-4 run as they finally crept beyond the double-digit point barrier. Despite a commanding 16-point lead, Krzyzewski called a furious 30-second timeout and demanded they get back on defense. He didn’t have to shout twice. UNC made just two more field goals in the last five minutes of the half, and Duke sprinted to the locker room with a 27-point lead.
“On the offense end, they made threes, and when they missed, they got a rebound, kicked it out and made another three,” said UNC head coach Roy Williams.
The second wasn’t better to the Tar Heels. In fact, from the field, it was worse. The Tar Heels shot just 29 percent, and they often seemed overwhelmed by the night’s charged atmosphere. After all, it was the last home game for Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek—Duke big men who have been unexpectedly vital down low this year, the former for his defensive versatility and the latter for his rebounding consistency—and Scheyer, who scored 20 points and added seven assists. A share of the regular season ACC title as well as an unblemished record at home for the Devils—for the first time, 17-0—were also on the line. ESPN’s Gameday crew, including Krzyzewski mentor Bob Knight, was in town, as was Brian King, the Presbyterian College fan who was ejected from the Dean E. Smith Center earlier this year when he taunted UNC forward Deon Thompson during a free throw attempt. King was an invited guest of the Cameron Crazies. It was simply too much for the Tar Heels. When it was over, the seniors made their speeches and the Devils cut the net for, as best Krzyzewski can remember, the first time in Cameron.
“There’s no netter feeling than this,” said Thomas after the game, who had never before defeated UNC in Durham. “We worked for this, and it’s just a relief to know our hard work has paid off.”
The loss pushes the Tar Heels to 16-15 overall and to 5-11 in the ACC. Their wobbly postseason hopes, either in the NCAA or NIT, depend on a strong-to-winning performance in Greensboro next week at the ACC Tournament. In Greensboro, Duke will take the No. 1 seed.