It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
Technically, that Dickens’ quote would have to be reversed in order to apply here, but this Duke-UNC game was definitely a tale of two halves.
The game started off ugly as North Carolina jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead before Miles Plumlee got Duke’s first two points with a layup. Duke spent most of the 1st half trying to recover from that opening deficit; however, every time they seemed to make a run, UNC would counter with a more effective spurt to extend their lead. In a first half eerily similar to the St. Johns game, the Duke offense and defense began to sputter in tandem, and with the help of some nifty passing by Kendall Marshall, North Carolina was able to exploit lapses in both the transition and interior defenses. On the offensive side, Nolan Smith was really the only Blue Devil able to consistently find the basket and he carried Duke with 12 1st half points. Kyle Singler chipped in 7 points as well, but he struggled from the field on 3-10 shooting. When the 1st half buzzer sounded, the statistics pretty much told the story: UNC held a 27-18 rebounding advantage, had a 28-12 advantage in points in the paint, and the Blue Devils committed 9 turnovers — all of which enabled the Tar Heels to take a dominant 14-point lead into the intermission.
As the Blue Devils went to the locker room, Duke fan message boards around the country went into a tailspin. Apocalyptic tweets were flying around the Internet at a dizzying pace. Duke was doomed for a repeat of the St. Johns game. Without Kyrie, UNC was just flat out better than us. Carolina is more skilled than us at every single position on the floor and there’s no reason to expect that to change anytime soon. Perhaps most damningly, it was suggested that the team might as well give up; this game was OVER!
Fortunately for Duke, Coach K and the team are not quitters.
Mirroring North Carolina’s start to the 1st half, Duke opened the second half on an 8-0 run. To their credit, UNC continued to muster timely baskets each time Duke threatened to have the Cameron Crazies blow the roof off. However, Seth Curry was determined to bring the Devils all the way back. With two 3-pointers, two 2-pointers centimeters away from being 3′s, and a couple of pump-fake-drive-pull-ups, the game was tied. Just under 10 minutes to go in the game, Duke had completely erased a 14-point halftime deficit!
After a Kendall Marshall free throw, Nolan Smith made an aggressive move to the basket and was able to find Ryan Kelly for a 3-pointer that propelled Duke to their first lead of the game. Led by Nolan’s aggressiveness on offense and Kyle’s defensive shadowing of Harrison Barnes, the Blue Devils pushed their lead to six. The Duke lead hovered between 3 and 6 points over a tense final 5 minutes, and the Blue Devils successfully completed the comeback in thrilling fashion by holding off the Tar Heels for a 79-73 victory.