North Carolina Tar Heels: Seth Curry

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Less than 10 feet from the bucket and falling backward in Saturday's first half, Duke guard Seth Curry swirled through an unmakeable-looking basket that, he insisted with a grin, "I knew was going in the whole time."

It was that kind of game for Curry, who made his first seven shots and set the tone for the third-ranked Blue Devils' 69-53 blowout over rival North Carolina.

It was that kind of game for Duke (27-4, 14-4 ACC), which might have finished second in the ACC regular-season standings -- but is looking more and more like the top team in the nation again, thanks to the return of forward Ryan Kelly, the inside play of senior Mason Plumlee and the dynamic scoring of Curry.

"We're re-energized,'' said Curry, who finished 8-for-13 with two assists and three rebounds. "We're having fun with our whole team back out there. … And when we're on our A-game, we feel like we're one of the best teams in the country."

The Devils have systematically been returning to their A-game now that Kelly's back, after missing 13 games because of an injured foot. The senior -- who had averaged 27 points in the two games since his return last weekend -- was only 2-for-4 with eight points this time around. But the team, and his teammates, are looking more and more comfortable with the 6-foot-10 defense-stretcher back in the starting five.

For Robbi Pickeral's full column, click here.

Rapid Reaction: Duke 69, UNC 53

March, 9, 2013
3/09/13
10:58
PM ET

 
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Seth Curry scored 20 points. Mason Plumlee had 23.

It was a memorable Senior Night at the Dean Smith Center -- for Duke.

The third-ranked Blue Devils decimated their in-state rivals 69-53 Saturday, snapping the Tar Heels’ smaller-lineup-led six-game winning streak while winning their third straight since the return of their other starting senior, Ryan Kelly. It marked the regular-season finale for both teams.

A quick look at the blowout:

Turning point: Ummm … tipoff? Duke, paced first by Curry, got off to a 14-0 run before UNC scored (on a James Michael McAdoo free throw). McAdoo scored five consecutive points before the Blue Devils took off again. Curry was 7-for-7 with 15 points before he recorded his first miss and had 18 points by halftime.

With his team leading 42-24 at the break, it was Plumlee’s turn to take off, scoring the Devils’ first 10 points of that half.

How lopsided was the disparity? With about nine minutes left, Curry and Plumlee had combined to outscore UNC’s entire team 41-36.

The Tar Heels tried to rally, putting together a 13-2 run that included their first 3-pointer of the game (from P.J. Hairston), with 5:01 left. But that only cut Duke’s lead to 63-49, and Blue Devils guard Quinn Cook quickly re-padded his team’s cushion with back-to-back buckets.

Player(s) of the game: Curry reached the 2,000-career-points mark in the first half, and finished 8-for-13. Plumlee was 10-for-15 and had 13 rebounds.

McAdoo led the Tar Heels with 15 points.

Number(s) to know: Hairston, Reggie Bullock and Marcus Paige were a combined 0-for-11 for UNC in the first half, when the Tar Heels shot 27.3 percent and Duke shot 69.2.

Etc.: Kelly, averaging 27 points in two games since his return from a foot injury, was plagued by foul trouble in the first half and finished with eight points. … As per Senior Game tradition at UNC, senior walk-on Frank Tanner started. He played 41 seconds before usual starter Paige checked back in. UNC trailed 7-0 by then. … Saturday marked the first time a Roy Williams-coached UNC team has lost on Senior Night.

Up next: Duke will be the No. 2 seed in next week’s ACC tournament. The Blue Devils will have a first-round bye Thursday and play the winner of Thursday’s No. 7-No. 10 game on Friday at 7 p.m. in Greensboro. North Carolina will be the No. 3 seed, also have a first-round bye and will play the winner of Thursday's No. 6-No. 11 (Florida State-Clemson) game at approximately 9:30 p.m. on Friday in Greensboro.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Who would have thought, as little as a month ago, that Duke and North Carolina would've been the two hottest teams in the ACC?

Yet that’s exactly where things stand entering Saturday’s rivalry showdown at the Smith Center, thanks in part to the return of Blue Devils forward Ryan Kelly a week ago and the Tar Heels’ switch to a four-guard starting lineup last month.

“We’ve accomplished a lot that hasn’t been seen, just coming together and working a lot harder than we did initially,” said UNC forward James Michael McAdoo, whose team has won six in a row since losing at Duke last month. “... After all those games, when you used to interview us, we used to say, ‘We need to learn from our mistakes.’ It took us long enough, but we’re at a point now where we don’t want to go back and have that feeling again.”

A few things to watch when the game tips off at 9 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN:

KELLY VERSUS P.J. HAIRSTON

UNC coach Roy Williams said he was wowed by the performance of Kelly, the third-ranked Blue Devils’ 6-foot-11 senior, when he scored a career-high 36 points against Miami last weekend; after all, it was the player’s first game back after missing 13 straight because of a foot injury.

With Kelly in the lineup, “their team changes drastically,” said Williams, whose Tar Heels lost to a Duke team sans the forward last month.

“You’ve got Seth [Curry] and Mason [Plumlee] and Quinn [Cook] and Rasheed [Sulaimon] and all of those guys who have played really well. And all of a sudden they’ve got a huge shot of adrenaline here two weeks before the tournament starts -- [with the return of a player] who, according to Mike [Krzyzewski], may have been their best team defender, best talker on the defensive end of the floor. [Who] gives them another rebounder, a guy who can take charges and block shots.

“And he gets 36 points in the first game back, that’s mind-boggling to me.”

Kelly has averaged 27 points in the two games since his return, and his matchup with 6-5 UNC sophomore Hairston -- who has averaged 17.6 points since he was inserted into UNC’s starting lineup during the Tar Heels’ last game at Duke -- will be key.

Especially considering that Krzyzewski himself has been a bit wowed by Hairston.

“Hairston’s played great -- not good, he’s played great,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s taken advantage of his matchup, and that matchup hasn’t taken advantage of him, because he’s really a tough kid, he’s strong. I just think he’s tough-minded. A bigger player hasn’t hurt him on his defensive end of the court, and he’s really hurt that other player. Really, he’s been one of the best players in the conference the last few weeks.”

DEXTER STRICKLAND

Saturday will mark the final game at the Smith Center for shooting guard Dexter Strickland, UNC’s lone scholarship senior.

His career has been a roller coaster -- from an NIT season as a freshman, to a rebuilding season as a sophomore, to an ACL tear in 2011-12. But after settling for an inconsistent outside shot all too often earlier this season (he was still recovering from that knee injury, sometimes hampering his ability to drive to the basket), Strickland seems to be getting his speed and confidence back.

And at the right time.

“He’s a tough kid, he’s handled some tough times,” Williams said. “He’s really done some good things, and I’m really pleased that lately, things have gone a little bit smoother for him.”

Strickland, who also serves as backup point guard, has recorded 31 assists and only three turnovers during the Tar Heels' six-game winning streak -- a pretty impressive stretch for a player who had limited ballhandling experience when he first came to UNC.

THE ACC SEEDING RAMIFICATIONS

The Tar Heels have earned a first-day bye in the ACC tournament, but could still finish with the third or fourth seed. Duke will have the second seed, but still has a chance to share the regular-season league title.

Here’s the breakdown of scenarios for UNC entering Saturday:
  • If the Tar Heels win, they will tie Duke for second place in the regular-season conference standings, and be the No. 3 seed in the tournament. (Tiebreaker explanation: Duke and UNC split their series during the regular season, and the second tiebreaker is based on winning percentage against the top seed. Duke split its series with Miami, while UNC went 0-2 against the Hurricanes.)
  • If the Tar Heels lose and NC State beats Florida State on the road Saturday, then UNC and the Wolfpack would tie for third place -- but UNC would drop to the No. 4 seed in the tournament. (Tiebreaker explanation: The teams split with each other during the regular season, and neither beat top seed Miami. But NCSU went 1-1 against second-seeded Duke, while UNC would have finished 0-2.)
  • If the Wolfpack lose to the Seminoles, UNC gets the No. 3 seed in the tournament no matter the outcome against Duke.

And here's the breakdown of scenarios for Duke entering the game:
  • If the sixth-ranked Hurricanes win at home against Clemson on Saturday, they win the regular-season title outright.
  • If Duke beats UNC and Miami loses, the Blue Devils and Hurricanes tie for first place in the conference standings, but the Blue Devils get the second seed in the ACC tournament. (Tiebreaker explanation: The teams split, and both swept UNC, but Miami has a better winning percentage against both NC State and Virginia.)
  • If Duke loses to UNC, the rivals tie for second place in the league standings, but the Blue Devils earn the second seed in the ACC tourney (as explained above).

Rapid Reaction: Duke 73, UNC 68

February, 13, 2013
2/13/13
11:14
PM ET

 

DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke-North Carolina is rarely boring. Or quiet. Or one-sided.

Should we have expected anything less?

Playing with a sense of urgency rarely -- if ever? -- seen this season, the unranked Tar Heels gave second-ranked Duke another down-to-the-wire game in the rivalry before the Blue Devils prevailed 73-68 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

A quick look at the game:

Turning point: UNC led by as many as 10 points in the first half, and 33-29 at the break, but Duke took its first lead on a Seth Curry 3-pointer -- his first of the game -- with about 14 minutes left. That began a 13-6 run that included two more Blue Devils 3-pointers, giving Duke a 52-47 cushion. Curry extended the lead to eight points with about 5 minutes left, on another 3-pointer, and kept it there with 3:16 left with two free throws. And while the Blue Devils (22-2, 9-2 ACC) hit key free throws down the stretch, the Tar Heels did not.

Player(s) of the game: Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called reserve guard Tyler Thornton the "hero" of the game, finishing with 9 points but also coming up with some key assists and an important tip-out. Mason Plumlee finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds for Duke, and Quinn Cook scored 18 as well. UNC’s P.J. Hairston, making his second start of the season, led the Tar Heels (16-8, 6-5) with 23 points.

Etc.: The Cameron Crazies wore birthday hats for Krzyzewski, who turned 66 on Wednesday. … UNC freshman big man Joel James sat on the bench in a black suit; he missed the game after suffering a concussion last week. Duke started a Hairston, too -- Josh Hairston (no relation to P.J.), in place of Amile Jefferson, although Jefferson started the second half.

Asked about his decision to go with a small starting lineup -- P.J. Hairston, a wing, for center Desmond Hubert -- UNC coach Roy Williams said he had been pondering it for a while.

“I started to do it four or five games ago, but everybody’s saying, ‘Well, you’re going to put P.J. in for someone else.’ But nobody knows my team,'' he said. "It’s popular to say who the hell is supposed to be in the lineup when you don’t know what in the dickens you’re talking about."

He said he doesn't know who will start this weekend.

Up next: Duke will play at Maryland -- the team it beat by 20 points last month -- on Saturday. That day, UNC faces Virginia at home; the Tar Heels lost in Charlottesville by nine points Jan. 6.

Journey to the Tourney: UNC at Duke

February, 13, 2013
2/13/13
10:30
AM ET
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams admits that, on paper, his team doesn't match up very well with No. 2 Duke.

The Blue Devils boast a Wooden Award candidate (Mason Plumlee) who is averaging a double-double in the lane, another Wooden Award candidate (Seth Curry) who is making 41.9 percent of his 3-pointers and averaging 16.9 points and a team that has rejiggered and remelded since losing starter Ryan Kelly indefinitely to a foot injury on Jan. 8.

[+] EnlargeRoy Williams
Lance King/Getty ImagesRoy Williams and the Tar Heels have their work cut out for them against Duke.


Still, Williams insisted Tuesday: "We have a chance. I believe that from the bottom of my soul. But we've got to play great, and we didn't play great Saturday [in a 26-point loss at Miami]. We've got to play great [Wednesday] night. If we do that, I'll be very pleased, because we'll have a chance."

Although UNC (16-7, 6-4 ACC) has won five of the last seven rivalry games at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke has won nine of the last 10 meetings when it is ranked and the Tar Heels are not, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The exception: March 2003, when Matt Doherty's unranked Tar Heels beat the No. 10 Blue Devils at the Smith Center in his final season as head coach.

The Tar Heels have struggled this season on the road in starting strong, playing consistent defense and getting big plays from big guys, but yes, there is a chance.

Especially in a season that has already seen 13 unranked teams knock off a top-five squad, again according to ESPN Stats & Info.

And especially in this rivalry -- and the Blue Devils (21-2, 8-2) know it.

"We can't just think because of their record or their prior losses that they're going to come in here and it's going to be a blowout,'' Duke guard Quinn Cook said. "They are a great team. People have seen glimpses of them against UNLV. They played well against Miami the first time. They have played some good games, and they have a lot of talent."

A few things to watch in Wednesday's game (9 p.m. ET, ESPN):

THE BEGINNING


Yet again, UNC got off to a slow start at Miami on Saturday, spotting the Hurricanes a 9-0 lead from which it never recovered. It was the same sort of funk that got the Tar Heels into trouble during losses against Butler in the Maui Invitational, at Indiana and at NC State -- and they know they have to be more aggressive from the outset at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

But in a rivalry like this, should that really be a problem?

"I just think, when we play them, everybody's energy, sense of urgency, everything goes up,'' UNC senior Dexter Strickland said. "I don't think we had that against Miami; going down there was like an embarrassment, and we didn't play like we were capable of playing. This game is different, just because it's Duke, and it's the greatest rivalry of all time, and stuff like that. So we've just got to be ready."

CAN ANYONE SLOW PLUMLEE?

The 6-foot-10 senior has recorded 30 or more points in two of his last four games, and he’s going to be a load for UNC to defend. Because of their lack of size, the Tar Heels have often struggled to thwart bigger post players this season, and it won’t help matters that their only true wide body -- reserve freshman Joel James -- will not play because of a concussion.

“I think the one thing that Joel does is he does have that size that bothers people,’’ Williams said. “He doesn’t have the experience to be able to play Mason head-up or anything like that, but when he’s in the right position, it’s really difficult to score over him. Whereas the other guys might be in the right position, and it’s not nearly as difficult to score over them as it is to score over Joel.

“Desmond [Hubert] and James Michael [McAdoo] and Jackson [Simmons] and Brice [Johnson], they’ve got to be able to come through and do it.”

Williams said the Tar Heels want to put a crowd around Plumlee on defense, “but you can’t over-help because I’m real good at math and 3s add up faster than 2s.”

MCADOO

After posting three double-doubles in his previous four games, UNC’s leading scorer struggled against the Hurricanes, scoring a season-low six points on 3-for-12 shooting. The Tar Heels need the 6-9 sophomore -- who said his previously sore back was feeling better Tuesday -- to bounce back in a big way.

Plumlee said he could be tough to defend.

“He is a really aggressive scorer; he really looks for his shot,’’ Plumlee said. “He is a good player. He likes a lot of jump shots so I will have to get out on him, like [NC State’s Richard] Howell, I didn’t get out on and he was knocking them down, so I have to get out on McAdoo for sure.

“He is a good player, he runs the floor, so I’ll have to do a good job on him.”

3-POINT SHOOTING

Last year’s first meeting between the blue bloods was decided on a 3-pointer (the much-replayed game winner by now-NBA rookie Austin Rivers), and long-distance shooting could be key Wednesday, too.

The Blue Devils lead the ACC in 3-point field goal percentage (40.9), as all three of Duke’s perimeter starters -- Cook, Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon – are connecting on at least 41 percent of their shots from beyond the arc.

The Tar Heels, meanwhile, are 145-14 in the Williams era when shooting 38 percent or better from 3-point land -- including 10-1 this season. Reserve P.J. Hairston has been the most pinpoint from long distance of late, shooting 14-for-23 (60.9 percent) over his last four games.

THE IMPLICATIONS

The Tar Heels had won six of seven before their thud at Miami. They’ve proved they can win against good teams, but can they beat a great one? If they have a signature victory this season, it’s against UNLV -- which has since dropped out of the Top 25. Their best road win is against Florida State, and despite all of their potential, they have yet to fit their puzzle pieces together into a consistent, cohesive picture. A victory Wednesday night could go a long way toward changing the perception, and perhaps trajectory, of this team.

Duke, meanwhile, has come an awful long way from its discombobulation (and 27-point loss at Miami) after losing Kelly last month. Learning to play without the senior’s defense, and his ability to stretch defenses because he’s a 6-10 forward who can make 3-pointers, remains an adjustment. But a win Wednesday would be its sixth straight, and would continue to show that the Blue Devils remain a team to be reckoned with.

“We aren’t as comfortable as we were with Ryan, and we will never be as comfortable as we are with Ryan, because we aren’t as good as we are with Ryan,’’ Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “You are more comfortable the more talent you have.

“... Our kids have done a really good job of adjusting without Ryan, winning and playing really hard. I think we have played really hard. A few games we have played great, and portions of games, unbelievable. There is more variance for performance playing without a very good veteran player. The more experience you can have, the less variance [and] you get more confident. Our team is capable of having that level of variance still.”

Top brother duos in college hoops history

January, 23, 2013
1/23/13
2:06
PM ET
On Wednesday at Miami (7 ET on ESPN), Seth Curry needs 12 points for the Curry brothers to pass Larry and Eddie Bird for the second-most by a pair of brothers in Division I history.

Barring injury, the Curry brothers should pass the Hansbroughs in February for the most ever.


Below is one man’s opinion on the top 10 pairs of brothers to play college basketball. Just missing the list? Tyler and Cody Zeller.

10. Dominique and Gerald Wilkins
Both Wilkins brothers were more successful NBA players, but that shouldn’t diminish what they accomplished in the college ranks. Dominique is arguably the best player in Georgia history, and its only player to win SEC Player of the Year. Younger brother Gerald helped guide Chattanooga to the NCAA Tournament in his first season, and his 21.0 points per game as a senior is the highest in school history.

9. Tom and Dick Van Arsdale
The most accomplished twins to ever play basketball, it wasn’t just looks that made the two difficult to distinguish. Tom averaged 17.4 points and 10.0 rebounds in his three seasons at Indiana, while Dick averaged 17.2 points and 10.0 rebounds.

8. Chuck and Wesley Person
Only three players in Auburn history have scored 2,000 points. Two of them were brothers. Chuck is the school’s all-time leader with 2,311 points, while Wesley is third at 2,066. While both were elite at Auburn, it’s worth noting that neither won SEC Player of the Year.

7. Mark and Brent Price
At a school famous for producing guards, no one had a better career at Georgia Tech than Mark Price. He was the first freshman to lead the ACC in scoring, and was the Yellow Jackets’ leading scorer in all four seasons. Brent Price split his college career between South Carolina and Oklahoma. He was an All-Big Eight selection as senior, once scoring 56 points in a game.

6. George and Ed Mikan
Named of ESPN’s 25 greatest college basketball players in 2008, George Mikan helped revolutionize the game with his height. A two-time national player of the year, he led DePaul to the NIT title in 1945, averaging 40.0 PPG in that tournament. A year younger, Ed was also a member of that championship team. He also went on to become a member of DePaul’s Hall of Fame and play in the NBA.

5. Ed and Charles O’Bannon
The O’Bannon brothers combined to bring UCLA a national title in 1995. Ed won the Wooden Award that year, as well as the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. Charles was an All-Pac-10 selection in each of the two years after Ed left, making it five consecutive years than an O’Bannon was so honored.

4. Larry and Eddie Bird
No two brothers have scored more points at the same school. Larry Bird requires no introduction. Over three seasons at Indiana State, he averaged 30.3 PPG and 13.3 RPG. In 2008, ESPN’s panel of experts named him the ninth-greatest college player of all-time. But did you know he had a brother? Eddie Bird came to Indiana State a decade later and averaged double figures in all four seasons with the Sycamores. He’s still sixth on their all-time scoring list.

3. Stephen and Seth Curry
Barring injury, the Curry brothers will be the highest-scoring duo of brothers in Division I history. Older brother Stephen led Davidson to the Elite Eight as a sophomore and finished as the school’s all-time leading scorer despite playing for only three years. In fact, only five players have scored more total points in a three-year college career. Seth’s career at Duke isn’t nearly as prolific, but the senior captain could help lead the Blue Devils to a national title.

2. Bernard and Albert King
The best player in Tennessee history, Bernard King won SEC Player of the Year in all three seasons in Knoxville. He averaged more than 25 PPG in all three seasons. Overshadowed by his older brother, Albert was certainly no slouch. He averaged in double figures in all four seasons at Maryland and is the fourth-leading scorer in school history. Albert garnered ACC Player of the Year honors as a junior.

1. Tyler and Ben Hansbrough
No pair of brothers has scored more combined points than the 4,485 from the Hansbroughs. Tyler Hansbrough finished his North Carolina career as the ACC’s all-time leading scorer (2,872 points) and eighth all-time with 1,219 rebounds. One of only five players with 2,800 points and 1,200 rebounds, it’s no stretch to call him one of the greatest college basketball players of all time. But younger brother Ben was no slouch. In 2011, he averaged 18.4 PPG at Notre Dame and was named Big East Player of the Year.

Honorable Mention
George and Derrick Gervin, Horace and Harvey Grant, Blake and Taylor Griffin, Brook and Robin Lopez, Jay and Sam Vincent, Gus and Ray Williams, Cody and Tyler Zeller.

Summer Shootaround: ACC

July, 16, 2012
7/16/12
4:16
PM ET
Editor's note: ESPN.com’s Summer Shootaround series catches up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For more on the ACC, click here.

[+] EnlargeNorth Carolina State Wolfpack forward C.J. Leslie
Greg Bartram/US PresswireExpectations are high for C.J. Leslie and the rest of the NC State Wolfpack heading into the season.
1. Expectations at NC State: The last time the ACC media picked the Wolfpack to finish first in the league standings was 1988-89. But after a run to the Sweet 16 last March, forward C.J. Leslie's decision to return for another season, the arrival of a heralded recruiting class and so many departures from the other top conference teams, expect Mark Gottfried's club to top the ballots come fall. Point guard Lorenzo Brown needed knee surgery late last month, but is expected to practice before NCSU leaves for an August trip to Spain.

2. Departures at North Carolina: Losing so many stars to the NBA in one swipe (this time, Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall) is nothing new in Chapel Hill. The question is, how will the Tar Heels respond? In 2005-06, after losing seven of its top eight players, a young UNC team exceeded preseason expectations by making it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. But in 2009-10, after losing four of five starters, the Tar Heels didn't make it to the NCAA tournament at all. Returners such as James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock, Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland still make UNC a top-15 favorite this time around.

3. Decisions at Duke: The Blue Devils' jaw-dropping defeat to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the NCAA tournament was followed by a couple of other spring surprises: the announcement that guard Andre Dawkins will redshirt his senior season, and forward Mason Plumlee will return for another year. The latter is particularly key for Duke, which will boast sizeable frontcourt options in Mason and Marshall Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Alex Murphy and late signee Amile Jefferson. But without Dawkins, how Seth Curry, Quinn Cook, Tyler Thornton and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon perform on the perimeter could determine how far the Blue Devils go.

4. Personnel changes at Virginia Tech: Seth Greenberg is gone. But so are rising sophomore Dorian Finney-Smith and recruit Montrezl Harrell, who opted for new schools after Greenburg was fired. Former Greenberg assistant James Johnson -- who left Blacksburg, Va., for the same position at Clemson, only to return weeks later after he was hired to replace Greenberg in the head-coaching job -- has some talent to build around. But not all he could have hoped for.

5. Don't forget about Florida State: After losing six players in their rotation (including fan favorite forward Bernard James, who went No. 33 overall in the NBA draft), it would be easy to overlook the chances of the Seminoles, who won their first ACC tournament last season. But don't. The Noles return four of their top five scorers, including guards Michael Snaer and Ian Miller, who both buried game-winners last season. Plus, coach Leonard Hamilton has proven that defense wins.


DURHAM, N.C. -- This is what everyone expected North Carolina to be right about now: the ACC regular season champion, the top seed in next week’s league tournament, in the mix for a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.

It’s just not quite the way everyone expected the Tar Heels to achieve it all.

Dismissed as heart-lacking after losing by 33 points at Florida State on Jan. 14, overlooked as focus-less after losing a 10-point lead (and the game) to Duke in the final three minutes Feb. 8, sixth-ranked UNC finally showed what all the ballyhoo was about in the first place during its 88-70 victory over the third-ranked Blue Devils on Saturday night.

For only the second time this season, all five starters finished in double figures.

For the first game since December 2003, three Tar Heels finished with double-doubles.

They dominated the backboards (45-28), held a perimeter-reliant opponent to worse than 30 percent 3-point shooting (6-for-21), and never trailed.

All against a top-five foe.

“One thing that we talked about is people are going to put you on a pedestal to knock you down,’’ said point guard Kendall Marshall, who finished with 20 points and 10 assists. “That’s what happens. We weren’t going to be perfect unless we went out and won every game by 30. That’s not what happened … we learned from our mistakes, we continued to get better. And now it’s all starting to come together.”

In beating the Blue Devils (26-5, 13-3 ACC) by their largest margin at Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1989, the Tar Heels (27-4, 14-2) showed what they had learned from their previous four losses:

  • How to dictate tempo and energy (via UNLV and FSU).
  • How to keep a lead after building one (via Kentucky and Duke the first time).

Marshall was already annoyed about seeing Duke guard Austin Rivers’ game-winning shot from the first meeting seemingly every time he turned on the TV. So he grew downright hostile when he saw it replayed as part of a highlight montage on Cameron’s video board before pre-game introductions.

“I told my teammates that was disrespectful, and we’ve got to go out here and prove a point,’’ Marshall said. “Obviously they feel like they have that edge, that swagger over us right now, being that they won in our gym. It left a bad taste in our mouth, and we wanted to be able to come out and win today.”

Thus, they “played angry,” as UNC forward John Henson (13 points, 10 rebounds) put it, using an early 18-1 run to build a 22-5 lead within the first eight minutes.

By halftime, they pushed their advantage to 24, holding the ACC’s best 3-point shooting team to 2-for-11 from behind the arc in the first half while shooting better than 52 percent themselves.

[+] EnlargeKendall Marshall
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireKendall Marshall swoops in for two of the 20 points he recorded Saturday to go with 10 assists.
“We were overwhelmed in the first half,’’ Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They just played beautiful basketball. They were so efficient. They are a great team – they are not a good team, they are a great team.”

Of course, Duke rallied. In this rivalry, what else would you expect?

And when Blue Devils forward Miles Plumlee (16 points) cut the lead to 75-64 on two free throws with 6:01 left, no one could help but remember that game three weeks earlier, when Duke also came back.

“We were up 14 with three minutes and something left … and I told everyone during a timeout, basically, to remember what happened last time, and don’t let it happen again,’’ said senior forward Tyler Zeller (19 points, 10 rebounds).

They didn’t.

After Duke's Seth Curry missed a jumper, UNC forward James Michael McAdoo extended the lead to 15 with 3:03 left on an offensive rebound and layup. Sophomore Harrison Barnes followed with a 3-pointer to give his team an 18-point cushion with 2:04 left.

Zeller – who missed two free throws, accidentally tipped in a Duke shot and was the defender on Rivers’ winning 3 in the previous meeting -- scored five more points before he fouled out with 51 seconds to go. But he actually felt comfortable enough with the lead, he said, to enjoy the final seconds from the bench.

Ah, sweet vengeance.

“I think this game was definitely just recalling everything that we’ve been through this whole season, everything we learned to build up to this,'' said Barnes (16 points).

The key now, the players agreed, is to keep building -- and keep exceeding the outside expectations that were downgraded after their losses this season.

“My team has had to bounce back all year long,’’ UNC coach Roy Williams said. “We go down to Florida State and lose by 3 million, everyone’s jumping off the bandwagon and saying no team is going to lose like that and be that good of a team. And our team kept playing. We lose to Duke and everyone’s got a great opinion about how stupid we are and how bad we are, and my team kept playing.

“The best thing about my team is they’re pretty tough. I mean that’s some pretty big plays they’ve had to bounce back from, and I think they’ve done a nice job. Right now they’re regular-season ACC champions.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.


DURHAM N.C. -- A quick look at sixth-ranked North Carolina's 88-70 victory over No. 3 Duke on Saturday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium:

What it means: For the Tar Heels, their 29th regular-season ACC title, the No. 1 seed in next week’s ACC tournament, and some vengeance after allowing the Blue Devils to rally from a double-digit deficit in the final minutes to win Feb. 8 in Chapel Hill.

Duke, which had its seven-game winning streak snapped, lost its third ACC game at Cameron this season.

How it happened: North Carolina led 48-24 at halftime (yes, you read that correctly) as the Tar Heels dominated from the outset. With the scored tied 4-4 about a minute into the game, they shot on an 18-1 run before the Devils made another field goal, a Seth Curry 3-pointer. But it was only one of two 3s for Duke in the first half -- a sharp departure from the teams' previous meeting. Duke managed an Austin Rivers-led 8-2 mini-run to cut the deficit to 24-13. But it didn’t last, as the Devils shot 26.5 percent in the first half and the Tar Heels dominated the boards 32-15.

Duke, as was to be expected in this rivalry series, made a run early in the second half, outscoring UNC 11-4 to cut its deficit to 52-35. UNC weathered that one, but the Blue Devils put together another rally, cutting their deficit to 75-64 with about six minutes left on two Miles Plumlee free throws.

But unlike Feb. 8, when the Tar Heels squandered a 10-point lead in the final three minutes, point guard Kendall Marshall hit a jumper with about four minutes left. Freshman James Michael McAdoo then put back a Marshall miss to give the Tar Heels a 79-64 cushion with about three minutes left. And with about two minutes left, Harrison Barnes made a 3 to give the Tar Heels an 82-64 advantage.

Marshall led the Tar Heels with 20 points and 10 assists.

Mason Plumlee led Duke, which shot 58.6 percent in the second half, with 17 points.

Hubbub: The Cameron Crazies cheered for UNC forward Tyler Zeller -- the senior who missed two free throws, accidentally tipped in a Duke bucket, and was defending Rivers on the game-winning 3 during Duke’s double-digit comeback the previous time these two teams met – when the 7-footer was introduced. He fouled out with less than a minute left, but got the last laugh, finishing with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

What’s next: The ACC tournament at Philips Arena in Atlanta. Both team have Thursday byes, but top-seeded UNC will play at noon ET on Friday, and No. 2 seed Duke will play at 7.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Six … Five …

The seconds melted away. Austin Rivers kept dribbling.

Mason Plumlee was under the rim, another among the nearly 22,000 people crammed inside the Dean E. Smith Center, as helpless as each and every one. Later, he'd admit it: He was a little worried. He trusted Austin. It's just, well, those seconds were vanishing, and there Rivers was, dribbling them away. What if he missed? Would Plumlee have a chance to get a rebound?

"What is he doing?" Plumlee thought. "Is he going to shoot it?"

Four …

Seth Curry wasn't going to stand by and wait. He screamed at Rivers: "Shoot it! Shoot it!" It was futile. The crowd was too loud. No way Rivers could hear him. Would he get it off in time?

Three … Two …

That's when Doc Rivers knew. He'd seen it before. His son had set things up this way: He had forced UNC center Tyler Zeller into an uncomfortable switch, and now he had the big man right where he wanted. Doc's son was hesitating on purpose, waiting for the seven-foot Zeller to back up -- just enough to see the rim, just enough to give it a chance.

One ...

For Eamonn Brennan's full column, click here.
Austin RiversStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesWednesday's improbable victory was Duke's fifth in its past six tries against rival North Carolina.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall was so excited about Wednesday’s rivalry showdown with Duke, he said, that his stomach hurt before the game.

It must have felt like a punch to the gut afterward.

The fifth-ranked Tar Heels squandered a 10-point lead in the final 2 minutes, 38 seconds at the Smith Center, losing 85-84 to No. 9 Duke when Blue Devils freshman Austin Rivers buried a 3-pointer from the right wing at the buzzer.

It was another Duke-Carolina instant classic. But not the kind these Tar Heels will want to watch over and over.

“When the ball went through, it kind of took me a second to process it -- to realize that we had lost the game,’’ Marshall said. “I was stunned.”

And still was, when talking to the media about 20 minutes after the defeat.

After all, UNC -- which now has lost five of the past six in the rivalry series -- looked like it had this one wrapped up. It had rallied from an eight-point first-half deficit to take a three-point lead at halftime. It had extended that advantage to as much as 13 with a 14-4 run to open the second half.

It had gotten star performances from senior Tyler Zeller (who scored 19 of his 23 points in the first half) and sophomore guard Harrison Barnes (19 of his 25 in the second), whose field goal with 2:38 left put the Tar Heels ahead by 10.

At that point, some in the Smith Center crowd began muttering about whether UNC would reach 100 points, so they could get the two-sausage-biscuits-for-a-buck deal at Bojangles.

Some reporters retired to the media room to start writing their stories.

And although the Tar Heels weren't celebrating yet, they looked pretty confident.

[+] EnlargeNorth Carolina's Tyler Zeller
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesThe final minutes of North Carolina's last-second loss were especially difficult for Tyler Zeller.
“We had control the whole time,’’ said forward John Henson (12 points, 17 rebounds), referring to the first 17 minutes of the second half.

And then it all fell apart.

After Duke’s Tyler Thornton and Seth Curry made 3-pointers to cut UNC’s lead to four, the Tar Heels turned it over on their second consecutive possession -- and Duke forward Ryan Kelly’s bucket cut the lead to 82-80.

Zeller made one of two free throws. And then after a timeout, Kelly launched what appeared to be a 3-pointer with 14 seconds left -- only to have it somehow go off Zeller’s hand and into the basket for a bucket in Duke’s favor.

“I went up and tried to grab it, and just tipped it in somehow,’’ Zeller said.

When Roy Williams was asked whether he’d ever seen something like that happen, he responded: “No. But it’s Duke-Carolina.”

And in true Duke-Carolina fashion, the rally wasn’t over.

Zeller went to the free throw line, again, and made only one of two, again, with 14 seconds still remaining. That pushed his team’s lead to 84-82.

But with the clock ticking down, the 7-footer ended up covering the 6-4 Rivers (career-high 29 points) on a defensive switch near the 3-point line.

Swish.

“I should have got up further [on him],’’ said Zeller, whose team didn't attempt a single field goal in Duke's closing 13-2 run. “I didn’t want to foul him, get him to the free throw line, but I should have gotten up further. You can’t give him a 3 when you’re up 2.”

It was a devastating final minute for the power forward, who had played so well -- and aggressively -- throughout.

And a disheartening minute for a team that could have vaulted into sole first place in the ACC, after Florida State’s loss at Boston College earlier Wednesday.

Instead, the Tar Heels left with painful what-ifs. And, perhaps, stomachs.

"It really hurts, because of how we played the whole game,” Henson said. "For us in the last three minutes just to give it up like that is really depressing.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

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.

SPONSORED HEADLINES