The Duke Blue Devils were all business as they rolled out to a 14-0 lead over archrival North Carolina and never looked back, winning 69-53 to secure sole possession of second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Duke was led by Seth Curry in the first half, as the senior scored 20 points on a wide array of shots, and in the second half the Blue Devils rode the play of Mason Plumlee, who ended he game with a game-high 23 points and 14 rebounds.
“Seth was the best player on the court in the first half and Mason was the best player in the second,” said Coach Mike Krzyzewski during the post game press conference. He continued, “The second half was a man’s half. Mason was superb and has had an unbelievable year for us.”
The play of the two seniors was the difference, as was a Duke defense that held Reggie Bullock scoreless in the first half, held the Tar Heels to a single made three point shot in the entire game, and switched off well all night long. “Our defense was outstanding. They missed some open shots and we defended well, limiting second chance opportunities,” Krzyzewski said.
The Blue Devils simply took it to the Tar Heels and by doing so, they were able to take the home crowd out of the game. Every time North Carolina tried to make a run, a Duke player stepped up for a big bucket giving them a constant double-digit lead.
Krzyzewski also praised his team’s unselfishness, and it was apparent to all that the Blue Devils are on their way to finding that early season chemistry which made them so efficient in the early season against one of the nation’s toughest schedules.
A few weeks ago, Krzyzewski wondered out loud how good his team would be when Ryan Kelly returned. This game may have provided the answer. That return means that teams can no longer double down on Plumlee, and while Kelly did not have a stellar game against UNC compared to his two previous performances, his presence was felt in multiple ways.
In a game most thought would go down to the wire and indeed many felt it would not even be an upset if the Tar Heels were to win, Duke made a statement, and that statement is that they are still tops in this league going into the tournaments. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. While Duke finished second to Miami in the regular season standings, and that season included an unbalanced schedule, the Blue Devils’ win convinced ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi to consider them the tournament’s overall #1 seed at this point.
Duke will next play in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro on Friday at 7 PM against the winner of Thursday’s Maryland-Wake Forest game.