When a Nate Britt basket with just under four minutes remaining gave No. 15 North Carolina a ten-point lead, the Tar Heels appeared to be in good shape. Continue to attack the paint and the backboards, and hit some free throws late, and Roy Williams’ team would be able to pick up what would have been a huge road win. Unfortunately for North Carolina they were unable to close out the game, and Duke freshman point guard Tyus Jones was the biggest reason why.
Jones scored Duke’s final nine points of regulation, with his layup with 28 seconds remaining tying the game at 81-all (some have argued that Justise Winslow got away with a hold on this play). From there it seemed inevitable that Duke would win, with North Carolina allowing its best chance at the win to slip away. And that’s what happened, as the Blue Devils won 92-90 in front of a frenzied crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
And the biggest difference, even with North Carolina managing to score 62 points in the paint, was the Duke backcourt tandem of Jones and Quinn Cook. Jones scored 22 points, dished out eight assists and grabbed seven rebounds, with Cook adding 22 points and playing some excellent defense on Marcus Paige (there will be more on this in the morning).
Paige, North Carolina’s leading scorer, finished the game with just five points on 2-for-11 shooting. And regardless of what North Carolina was able to do in the paint, they need an effective Paige in games of this magnitude as he’s the team’s best perimeter scoring option. Thanks in large part to Cook, Duke was able to take that away from North Carolina, and it allowed the Blue Devils to remain in the game despite struggling in defending the post.
Post defense involves a variety of areas, including not allowing the big men to set up shop in the paint and putting pressure on passers to make the entry passes more difficult. If there’s anything to point out as an area where Duke will need to improve with an eye towards March (and maybe even early April), it’s how they defend the post.
But even with that being the case, Duke has a backcourt that has and will continue to win them games. While Jones has matured throughout the season, Cook’s been the steady hand that a team so reliant on three freshmen and eight scholarship players so desperately needed. Whatever the team has needed this season, Cook has supplied it.
North Carolina played very well, and in playing fast and attacking the paint as often as they did Roy Williams’ team has its blueprint for the remainder of their season on the offensive end. But even with that being the case, the tandem of Cook and Jones made sure that the Tar Heels’ short drive back to Chapel Hill was an unhappy one.