Grayson Allen scored 23 points, including a pair of free throws to give No. 20 Duke the lead for good with 1:09 left, and Brandon Ingram added 20 points and 10 boards as the Blue Devils overcame a ridiculous amount of adversity to beat No. 5 North Carolina in Chapel Hill, 74-73.
Already limited to a six-man rotation due to a broken foot suffered by Amile Jefferson, Duke lost starting guard Matt Jones to sprained ankle late in the first half. If that wasn’t bad enough, playing against a North Carolina team that was absolutely pummeling them in the lane, Duke’s starting center Marshall Plumlee picked up his third and fourth foul seconds apart with 14 minutes left.
And they were still able to knock off the Tar Heels on the road. You have to give Duke all the credit in the world for that. They got critical stops — more specifically, critical defensive rebounds — down the stretch and made just enough plays on the offensive end to get the win.
Give credit to Mike Krzyzewski, because he did what he’s done all season long: he gave the rock to his studs and let them loose. The knock on Duke, at least on the offensive end of the floor, is that they don’t have a point guard. To combat that, Coach K more or less dares defenses to try and slow down Allen (who’s averaging 20.6 points and 3.7 assists) and Ingram (17.2 points). Combined, those two took 39 points and got to the foul line 14 times on Wednesday.
That’s in stark contrast to North Carolina.
Brice Johnson was, once again, putting on a show. He had 18 points and 11 boards in the first half. With just under 11 minutes left in the game, when Plumlee reentered with his four fouls, Johnson had 27 points and 17 boards. In the final 11 minutes of the game, he got just one shot — a dunk off of a drop-off pass from Jackson — while UNC’s guards shot 1-for-14 from the floor.
“Brice really was something for a huge portion of the game tonight,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said after the game.
But he was nothing during the most important stretch.
Now there’s two ways to look at this. On the one hand, Johnson was going off and when you have a guy that’s playing like that, you want to get him as many touches as possible, right? The problem is that Johnson isn’t really a guy that creates offense for himself. He goes and gets offensive rebounds. He finishes off pick-and-rolls. He throws down massive dunks when his teammates drive and find him at the rim.
In other words, the issue isn’t that plays weren’t called for Johnson, it’s that UNC’s guards opted to settle for jumpshots rather than drive the ball into the lane and find the guy that Duke quite literally did not have the personnel to stop.
Marcus Paige and Joel Berry II were 4-for-22 from the floor. As a team, UNC shot 1-for-13 from three.
We know what we’re going to get with Duke moving forward: Are they going to get Jones and Jefferson healthy, and when/if they do, are they going to be able to defend.
The question marks with UNC are a bit different. On paper, this team looks like they should be playing for a national title, but what have they done this season that should make us trust them in big moments and big games?
I’ve called the Tar Heels soft before.
And I wasn’t just talking about their physicality.