Using blistering second-half shooting, No. 5 Duke rallied to take down Tobacco Road rival North Carolina with a 74-64 ACC home win on Saturday night.
Trailing by 10 points at halftime after shooting only 1-for-10 from three-point range in the first half, the Blue Devils heated up later in the game to take control with a dominating second-half effort. Duke’s offense finally came alive as they knocked down eight, second-half three-pointers behind a balanced effort to score 49 points over the final 20 minutes. Duke’s improved defense also stepped up its play over the course of the game as the Blue Devil perimeter defense limited North Carolina to only 25 percent three-point shooting on the night.
Freshman big man Marvin Bagley III had a monster outing for the Blue Devils as he finished with 21 points and 15 rebounds — making another major case for ACC Player of the Year. Guards Grayson Allen (15 points) and Gary Trent Jr. (13 points) also came alive from the perimeter in the second half as they both finished in double-figures.
Although Duke (25-6, 13-5) had three potent scorers rolling at the same time, freshman point guard Trevon Duval was the major catalyst for the Blue Devil offense in the second half. Duke had 13 assists on 18 field goals in the second half, and Duval’s leadership at the point was a big reason why.
Coming off the bench as Duke favored Javin DeLaurier and a bigger starting lineup for the second consecutive game, Duval responded to his benching with a positive second-half effort. Struggling with turnover issues and offensive confidence the past few games, Duval ran the show with great efficiency for Duke as he set up others while also getting involved on his own.
Regardless of whether Duval starts or comes off the bench, Duke has other stars and go-to options to carry them through most games. The Blue Devils also need this version of Duval — the efficient floor general — to play this way if they want to win consistently against elite teams as they go for a title. If Duval can take control of running the offense while limiting turnovers then it keeps constant pressure on opposing defenses with weapons like Bagley, Allen, Trent and Wendell Carter Jr. around him.
In nine of his last 10 games, Duval had two or more turnovers. There were times he was a liability with the ball in his hands. Saturday’s win over North Carolina saw Duval show more restraint while still remaining in a healthy attack mode. Duval finished with seven points, six assists, two steals and zero turnovers as his steady play was a major part of Duke’s rally.
It’s hard to say if Duke will continue to roll with the bigger starting lineup after Duval’s strong second-half performance. DeLaurier’s added size and activity is a nice addition to Duke’s 2-3 zone as its defense has been getting better down the stretch. It’s also a nice luxury for the Blue Devils to know that Duval could be a spark plug off the bench if he needs to be.
It also remains to be seen if Duval can sustain this type of play for the rest of the season or if this was a memorable one-game performance in a win over a rival.