Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Rapid Reaction: Duke 85, North Carolina 84
By Eamonn Brennan
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Well, well, well. Some quick, pertinent details from Duke's buzzer-beating 85-84 win over hated rival North Carolina after a 10-point rally in the final two minutes ...
Overview: Getting into a run-and-gun game with North Carolina is never a good idea, but because Duke's defense has struggled so often this season, especially recently, the Blue Devils didn't really have a choice. If they were going to win in the Dean Dome, they were going to have to outscore UNC. And for nearly 20 minutes, it worked. Duke came out hot, hitting 7-of-17 from 3 in the first half and leading Carolina the entire way. The Tar Heels couldn't stop Duke's screen action. They couldn't close out on shooters. They couldn't keep Austin Rivers out of the lane. There was the creeping suspicion that the early lead was built on a foundation of sand, but hey: This was Duke's chance. The Blue Devils deserved credit for taking it.
Alas, it didn't -- and maybe couldn't -- last long. If UNC picked up the pace late in the first half, it absolutely exploded in the second. Kendall Marshall began to push the pace, Harrison Barnes started to work his midrange game and, by the 16:34 mark, the Tar Heels rushed out to a 54-44 lead. Rivers remained hot from 3, but the rest of the Blue Devils cooled off.
However, they never went away. Every time it looked like North Carolina was going to snuff the life out of the game, Duke got a big bucket, or a key steal, or a big 3 from Rivers or Seth Curry. Slowly but surely -- almost quietly, if you can believe it -- Duke snuck back into the game. With a minute left to play, Mason Plumlee's steal led to a Curry 3, which cut a seven-point lead to four. Barnes was called for a charge on one end; Ryan Kelly made a big 2 on the other. Just like that, it was a two-point game, 82-80, and UNC's fans had no choice but to realize the sudden seriousness of the situation.
Strange events followed: At 83-80, Kelly's attempt at a 3 became a 2 when Tyler Zeller (somehow) tipped it in. After a missed free throw at 84-82, Rivers backed his hesitant defender (Zeller) away and, just milliseconds before the buzzer, launched a 3 that -- wouldn't you know -- went in. It was, well, pick your adjective. Miraculous? Ridiculous? Insane? It was all those things and more, and no rapid reaction could ever do it justice. Wow. Just ... wow.
Star of the game: Duke's Austin Rivers has been mercurial and inconsistent for much of the season -- have you seen this? have you heard about this? -- but wow, what a second half and what a finish. A star is born. Rivers finished with a career-high 29 points, made six of 10 shots from long range and even pulled down five rebounds.
Rivers was Duke's early spark, scoring 13 points in the first half, and his second-half shooting (including a pair of 3s in the midst of UNC's run) kept his team in the game when UNC looked ready to totally blow it open. When all else was failing, he kept his team's chances viable much deeper into the game than they had any right. And then, well, you saw the final shot. You're going to see it a million more times, too.
Stat of the game: Duke connected on 14 of its 3-pointers, the most the Blue Devils have hit against a North Carolina team since March 2001.
Meanwhile, UNC attempted just six 3s and hit just one of them. That’s a whopping 39-point difference from beyond the arc.
What it means: The Blue Devils just made the ACC a three-horse race after ending UNC's 31-game home winning streak. Carolina could have pulled away, but instead, Duke moves ahead to 7-2, UNC moves back to 7-2 and both are tied with 7-2 Florida State after the Seminoles' strange loss at Boston College. This thing is now wide open.
But forget the ACC standings. Honestly, who cares? This game was another insane chapter in one of the best rivalries in the world of sports, and Rivers' shot will join the all-time great players and plays in the pantheon. You'll see it replayed over and over and over, and it will be warranted, because it immediately becomes one of the greatest shots in a rivalry full of them. This was Jeff Capel-type stuff. It was nuts. And this writer won't soon forget it.
On March 3, UNC travels 8 miles to Durham for a rematch at Cameron Indoor Stadium. "Big game" doesn't even begin to describe it.
What's next: Duke hopes to carry the momentum over to a Saturday afternoon home matchup with Maryland, while North Carolina better bounce back quick because No. 20 Virginia comes to Chapel Hill next, also Saturday afternoon.