Fans or no fans, ranked or unranked, the Duke-UNC game once again showed why it is arguably the best rivalry in college sports.
The game almost always produces one of the best battles of the year – and often does it twice a season. The game once again went down to the wire, this time with Duke coming up short in the final moments and ultimately losing to North Carolina, 91-87.
“It was an amazingly competitive basketball game,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Very physical. I thought both teams played extremely hard. Our guys really fought like crazy.
“Our guys played like crazy and they played like crazy. So it’s a tough loss. A very difficult loss.”
Duke fought back to tie the game twice after trailing by as many as 12 points in the second half, but the Blue Devils were never able to jump out front in the final stretches of the game. Unlike the Blue Devils’ game at Miami, though, the fight and will to win was certainly present.
With 10:47 remaining in the game, North Carolina held an eight point lead. At that moment, it appeared as if the Tar heels were going to take control of the game, but Duke locked in defensively and started to hit some shots.
Over the final 10 minutes of the game, Duke forced five UNC turnovers, and worked its way to the two ties, as well as several one possession stretches in the final minutes.
Duke’s trio of Matthew Hurt, Wendell Moore Jr., and Jalen Johnson combined for 17 of team’s 28 points over the final 10:47.
Johnson got the group started with a quick stretch of five points, with Hurt picking up where Johnson left off, scoring five points of his own. At that point, Hurt seemingly was finding a rhythm after struggling deep into the game. In fact, it took the sophomore until the 11:05 mark of the second half before he scored his first points.
Unfortunately for Duke, however, just as he was finding his game, he picked up his fifth foul leaving Duke to go at it without him.
Moore was prepared to carry the load, though. He scored seven points in that final stretch, and had an opportunity tie or win the game late. UNC, had two fouls to give when Duke was set to inbounds the ball trailing 89-87 with 15 seconds to go in the game.
As anticipated, the Tar Heel guard Andrew Platek quickly fouled Duke guard Jeremy Roach. Just two seconds ticked off the clock. With one foul to give, and 13 seconds on the clock, most anticipated North Carolina would use that foul.
And the plan might have been to do so. However, Moore saw an opening attacked the basket. As he left the floor for the hoop, Tar Heel defenders went with him. Rather than getting a shot off, Moore tried to come down with the ball and throw it to a teammate. Unfortunately for Duke, Moore’s foot hit the floor before releasing the ball.
Just like that, Duke turned it over and UNC had the ball with nine seconds to go. The Tar Heels made two free throws soon after, ultimately sealing the win.
“I haven’t talked to Wendell,” Krzyzewski said. “I don’t want to do that right now, because I don’t want him to feel like that lost the game. He played really well.
“I really don’t know exactly what happened. I’m assuming he thought we might get fouled for the sixth foul, and we had a timeout. And then we would’ve called a timeout and tried to set something up if that was the case. If a guy sees an opening then he should go. If he saw it, and obviously he saw it, he should go. I have his back on that.”
Moore, who finished second for Duke in scoring with 15 points, posted five rebounds, four assists and one steal, was one of the Blue Devils’ best players throughout the night.
As a whole, Duke had five players score in double figures, led by Roach, who scored 16 points. He also registered five assists and three steals. Johnson scored 14, while adding five rebounds and five assists of his own. And then there was Joey Baker, who scored 11 points and made three rebounds in his best showing of the season.
Baker received praise for his efforts, and drew questions about what allowed him to have such a big game after struggling most of the season.
But in typical Baker fashion, he was not worried about his stats or his play if it didn’t help the team win the game.
“Just trusting my work,” he said when asked about his play. “It’s been a tough year. But just continuing to put in the work, trust my teammates and just try and help us win however I can. Tonight it was falling, but it wasn’t enough for us.
“It doesn’t matter too much to me, honestly. I would have much preferred a win tonight.”
While Baker was on top of his game, Hurt was having one of the toughest of his season. As previously mentioned, it took him nearly 30 minutes of game action before he scored his first points in the game.
In fact, prior to those first two points of the night, Hurt had not scored against UNC, failing to find the scorers column in each of the two previous games with the Tar Heels. He did finish the night with seven points and five boards, but it was tough going.
Krzyzewski chalked it up to the physicality and how it impacted his ability work in the post. When things did start working for Hurt, he was finally getting his bigger defenders on the perimeter. It was too late, however.
“The physicality of the game,” Krzyzewski said when asked what kept Hurt from being a prominent offensive force. “They’re huge. When you have to guard those big guys it wears you out. Then they played really good defense, especially early and knocked us back. They knocked us back at the beginning of each half and then we came back in each half but not far enough.”
Henry Coleman helped give Duke an edge and much needed emotional lift for 12 solid minutes. Without him, Duke probably would not have been in a position to even win the game.
His impact is not represented by the stat sheet, though, and while he was huge, Hurt’s absence on offense was a huge setback.
Even still, Jordan Goldwire, who finished the game with seven points, four assists and four steals, praised Coleman.
“Henry, he’s worked hard all year. I’ve seen it in practice, and even in the little spurts where he’s come in this year. Henry is a good player. He came in and battled for us.”
While Duke struggled in a handful of areas, a lot of their lack of success goes to UNC’s play. They turned the ball over 16 times, and were careless, just as Duke was, with the basketball at times, but they had a next level performance from their young guard, Caleb Love.
The freshman, who has struggled to shoot the ball and keep his turnover numbers low, was outstanding on offense, save five turnovers.
He more than made up for his mistakes with a game-high 25 points and seven assists. He was difference in the game.
“Caleb Love was outstanding,” Krzyzewski said. “Look, I thought the kids that played in this game were all good. But he stepped it up above all the others and did an outstanding job. We’re right there. Fought where it’s a one possession.”
The loss certainly hurts for Duke, but the team has to put it behind them and look to Notre Dame. Time is running out and if there is a postseason in their future, this one has to be put behind them quickly.
“We’ve got to just keep playing,” he added. “I don’t have a long term goal. My goal is to get ready for Notre Dame now. Our guys are improving. They’re working hard. They’re coming in, extra work.
“They have great attitudes. They’re a young group. Tonight they were a team that was deserving to win, too. That’s all I ask for my teams is to keep playing that way. I believe in them and we’re going to keep working with them.”