The last time North Carolina and Duke got together changed the narrative of this Tar Heels team.
Instead of being thought of as one of the nation’s best teams, a sleeping giant just waiting to be woken up, the Tar Heels were suddenly the team that couldn’t handle the moment. They were soft, physically. They didn’t have the mental fortitude to be able to win big games and execute in the clutch. Their guards were too shot happy and unwilling to pound the ball inside to what may be the nation’s best front line.
And while we won’t know whether UNC has shaken their bad habit of losing big games until their season comes to an end, what we can say is that the Tar Heels have figured out that they need to embrace the fact that they’re a team that plays inside-out. Brice Johnson had 18 points and 21 boards and Kennedy Meeks added 12 points and 14 boards as the No. 8 Tar Heels absolutely abused No. 17 Duke in the paint on Saturday en route to a 76-72 win in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
It was the first win in that building for anyone on UNC’s roster, and it happened to come on a night where the Tar Heels sealed up the outright ACC regular season title.
“With three losses in a row here, with a chance to win the outright ACC championship, we couldn’t be more proud of this,” Marcus Paige said on the broadcast after the game.
“We finally won one,” Johnson added.
North Carolina made it interesting, probably more interesting that the final score should have been. The Tar Heels outrebounded Duke 64-29. 64-29!!! That’s a 35-board advantage, and while I know that rebounding margin is not all that valuable of a stat … 35!!! North Carolina had 27 offensive rebounds. Duke had 21 defensive rebounds. The problem was that those 27 offensive rebounds only led to 20 second chance points, as Duke was able to make their run in the second half because the Tar Heels couldn’t actually finish anything around the rim.
It wasn’t pretty.
UNC shot 35.6 percent from the floor, and Paige, who has been mired in a brutal shooting slump, shot 3-for-10 from the floor and 1-for-8 from three.
But they get the win they needed and they closed their season with a league title that they earn on Duke’s home floor.
There haven’t been many days better than this in Chapel Hill. in recent years.