BROOKLYN — Jayson Tatum, Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard combined for 62 points and Frank Jackson chipped in with 15 points of his own on Friday night as Duke erased a double-digit second half deficit for the second straight game, knocking off top-seeded North Carolina in the semifinals of the ACC tournament, 93-83.
The Blue Devils trailed 61-48 with just over 13 minutes left on Friday, using a 29-8 run that coincided with Joel Berry II’s fourth foul to take a 77-70 lead that North Carolina never recovered from. On Thursday night, in Duke’s win over Louisville, the Blue Devils erased a 12-point deficit — that score was 61-49, coincidentally — to knock off the Cardinals.
Here are four things to take away from Duke’s win:
1. Get ready for the Duke love affair to begin anew: Because it’s going to happen.
The Blue Devils were the consensus favorite to win the national title before the season began. Throughout November and December, every story about Duke read, in part, “just wait until they get their guys healthy.”
Well, guess what: their guys are healthy. Allen’s ankle looks as good as it has looked all year long, Tatum looks like the best isolation scorer in the country and Luke Kennard is still capable of putting up 20 points on a night where he didn’t play all that well. The Blue Devils have their flaws — they are never going to be a great defensive team, their depth is an issue, North Carolina’s bigs absolutely beat the crap out of the Blue Devils for the first 30 minutes on Friday — but this team is more talented than anyone else in college basketball.
And they are now coming off of wins over a pair of top ten teams on back-to-back nights where they trailed by double-digits in the second half of both games.
The love affair is about to begin again.
2. You got a glimpse of the real Harry Giles III: Giles’ story doesn’t need to be retold at this point. An elite prospect during the early years of high school, Giles suffered a torn ACL in both knees and, prior to the start of practice, underwent a procedure on the first knee he injured. He spent 14 months not playing basketball.
That’s not easy for anyone to overcome, let alone a freshman that has never played basketball at this level before, and it showed during the season. Giles struggled with everything: the physicality, the speed of the game, defensive rotations, his endurance, his explosiveness. He just wasn’t the same guy.
On Friday night, however, we saw a little bit of what made him so special as a high schooler. Late in the second half, with Amile Jefferson on the bench with four fouls and Duke in a physical battle with the Tar Heels, Giles had a pivotal stretch where he blocked a shot at one end, beat Tony Bradley down the floor for a dunk at the other end, stole an entry pass on the ensuing UNC possession and, after Duke scored at the other end of the floor, snagged a rebound in between two of North Carolina’s big, physical dominating front court pieces.
That’s the guy that we’ve been waiting all year to see, and this was another step towards Giles being that guy.
3. North Carolina is damn good when they have everyone on the court: Duke won on Friday, but North Carolina showed just how dominant they are capable of being when all their guys are on the floor.
Berry went to the bench with 15 minutes left. Duke’s run came entirely with him out of the lineup, and coincided with UNC’s inability to get anything done offensively. We all know how important Berry is to the Tar Heels — if you didn’t, I think today proved it to you — and that loss is a by-product of one of those things that happens in hoops.
Berry isn’t in foul trouble often, however.
And when he’s on the floor, Theo Pinson is healthy and Isaiah is both healthy and not in foul trouble, the Tar Heels are as good or better than just about anyone.
Put another way, North Carolina-Duke Round 4 in the Final Four is not something that should shock anyone.
4. Where are these teams going to get seeded?: I think North Carolina is probably going to be safe as a No. 1 seed, but they’ve now lost two games in the last week. With Gonzaga going 32-1 and, in all likelihood, one of the three elite teams in the Pac-12 winning that conference tournament, might their be two West Coast teams that earn a No. 1 seed?
I don’t think so, but it’s possible.
Perhaps more interesting, however, will be where Duke is seeded. They just added two top ten wins to a résumé that looked good enough to be in contention for a No. 3 seed. With a win on Saturday night, can they climb into the No. 2 seed line?