Duke won its 22nd game of the season by defeating their arch rival North Carolina 73-68 last evening and while it wasn't the prettiest of games compared to classics past, it was still the kind of affair that was hard-fought and victory earned.
In the first half, UNC knocked Duke back a bit with a departure from their normal strategy by going small and the Tar Heels took a four point lead into the locker room. Their play allowed them to take the Cameron crowd out of the equation but for whatever reason, I never felt the Blue Devils were in major trouble. The team may have seen it differently in that during post game locker room interviews, they were drained.
Mason Plumlee spoke in a raspy low voice, perhaps horse from yelling, Cook looked as if he was about to fall out. There was exuberance but all seem just happy to have come out on the winning team. Emotions. They can take a toll in this kind of game and you add the intangibles of it being another late start, still a bit of jet lag and simply the demands of school can tire even the youngest of men.
Many felt North Carolina gave it their best shot and many felt it would b a blowout loss going in, but history teaches up, almost anything can happen in these games. This has been a rather disjointed version of the Tar H eels this season where chemistry issues abound but they showed a lot of fight and heart last evening but by games in, so did Duke and that enabled them to remain in the regular season hunt in the ACC.
The Blue Devils struggled from the three-point stripe in th first half, hitting just one, but they knocked down five in the second half. Of the six made three pointers, none were bigger than any from Tyler Thornton. Oh, that's right, he had half of them. Thornton hit the Blue Devils first three pointer and up until that point they were pushing, so seeing that one drop helped their psyches. Thornton was praised in the post game press conference by Kryzyzewski.
"Tyler is just a winner; he is a really tough kid. I like him because he can get angry. I think anger is an emotion that can get you past being tired and gets you past a lot of things."
Thornton had been a bit quiet in previous games but he picked a grand stage to help lift what Krzyzewski and I alluded to earlier, that this was a tired team. And the Tar Heels are also a deeper team than Duke, especially in Ryan Kellys' absence. Before I go on, this is where I say that Krzyzewski reiterated that there was no time-table for Kellys' return and he even made reference to "if," he returns.
While again, it was not the prettiest of wins on the court, the victory for Duke keeps them at or near the top of standings and rankings They now ride a six game winning streak and have adjusted to life after Kelly, but it is clear that they will need a bit more consistency from their cast to continue th roll with perhaps their last ever trip to Maryland coming up.
The victory over North Carolina allowed Krzyzewski to tie Adolph Rupp for the third most victories at one school and that made me think back on a lot of classic games past. While last evening may not be at the top of my memories list during his 76th birthday bash, wins over your arch rival are always tantalizingly sweet. And if you missed it, last night was Coach K's 66th birthday and he can never not like the gift of beating Carolina.
The cool thing for Duke fans is that he shared that gift with all of us.
This and That Department
- I watched the replay from the ACC Network which is a fresh alternative to ESPN on occasion and enjoyed the broadcast. Speaking of ESPN, Dick Vitale once again came down to chat it up with the Cameron Crazies but no ride through the crowd this go round.
- National media turned out last and I sat behind Dick "Hoops" Weis or at least until half time where he bailed, perhaps due to the over exuberant Cameron Crazies which sit directly behind, er ... on us. Jeff Goodman, Pat Forde and several others were there as well in what is almost a social atmosphere for the rivalry.
- The Cameron Crazies were good, understandably excited and nobody put words in their collective mouths last evening. Sorry, I could not resist. This comment of course is in reference to the accusations of so many who were not at the recent Duke vs NCSU game. To this day, not one single media member attending that game, objective as they are have come forward saying they heard, "the chant."
- After trailing 38-31, Duke went on a 16-5 run. The Blue Devils went on another 11-4 run featured three Duke three pointers and or half their total of six made attempts.
- Quinn Cook turned the ball over more than usual in the first half but his four steals helped make up for it. Cook has now earned 22 consecutive starts. Cook also teamed with Curry to grab 11 boards from the guard spot.
- Rasheed Sulaimon drew a key charge during the Blue Devils comeback and he nor ranks second on the team with nine total taken on the season. Hairston leads the team and for what it's worth, the injure Ryan Kelly is often at the top of this category when healthy.
- Duke distributed fliers pushing Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon for season honors. Plumlee is being pushed as an ACC Player of the Year candidate and All American candidate as is Curry. Cook and his stats are being offered up for the All ACC team and Sulaimon as a freshman All American candidate.
- Prospects Theo Pinson and Harry Giles watched the game from behind the Duke bench last evening.