CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Mike Krzyzewski walked off North Carolina’s homecourt a final time, armed with one more victory and the sound of a once-rowdy crowd mustering only a meager set of boos.
Ninth-ranked Duke ensured its retiring Hall of Fame coach could savor that moment Saturday night, thanks to a dominating opening stretch and a star-level performance from a blossoming freshman that had long since driven the blue-clad fans for the exits.
A.J. Griffin scored a season-high 27 points to help the Blue Devils beat the rival Tar Heels 87-67, earning a fifth straight win overall in Krzyzewski’s final visit to Chapel Hill.
“We wanted to send him out with a win, because he definitely deserves it,” said Duke’s Wendell Moore Jr., who had 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists to highlight the Blue Devils’ backcourt dominance.
Duke shot 58% and took all drama out of the renewal of the famed rivalry early in both halves, both in building a big lead and then stretching it back out after the Tar Heels had made a run to climb back in it.
The win allowed Duke (19-3, 9-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) to give Krzyzewski a 17th and final victory in the Smith Center, where he coached against the Tar Heels in its opening game in January 1986.
For North Carolina fans, it was a last chance to say a hostile farewell to Krzyzewski, whose tenure has had him battling against Tar Heel greats like Dean Smith, Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison and Tyler Hansbrough. The boos cascaded down from a rowdy crowd for Krzyzewski, both as he emerged from the visiting tunnel before the game and then as his ninth-ranked Blue Devils were introduced for starting lineups.
“I’m accustomed to that,” said Krzyzewski, who has downplayed questions about his farewell season all year. “I expect that. So I got what I expected and I’m always ready for it.”
But there was no need for dramatic finishes as with the walk-off baskets to win here by Austin Rivers in 2012 or by Moore two years ago. Rather, Duke ran out to a 31-8 lead, then sprinted out of the locker room again after the Tar Heels had grinded back to within 11 at halftime.
Griffin was the star, a freshman who missed most of his last two high school seasons due to injury. After 13 first-half points, the NBA prospect put on a show to start the second half with his own 10-0 run that featured two 3s — one of which had him dribbling between his legs to freeze defender Brady Manek before burying it near the Duke bench.
By the time Griffin scored over Manek on an off-balance drive, Duke had stretched the lead back to 49-28 to force a North Carolina timeout.
“We wanted to run a couple of things for him,” Krzyzewski said. “We ran one thing and he just, he went off.”
The Tar Heels (16-7, 8-4) didn’t get closer than 16 again, with the Blue Devils celebrating 3-pointers and dunks on the Tar Heels’ homecourt while the fans began fleeing for the exits with 5 minutes left.
Manek scored 21 points to lead the Tar Heels, who had won four straight games and swept last season’s rivalry series. But in first-year coach Hubert Davis’ head-coaching debut in the rivalry, UNC never recovered from a horrid start that included top post threat Armando Bacot picking up two quick fouls and Duke seemingly unable to miss and more than capable of muffling a rowdy crowd.
“We got punched in the mouth, we thought it was going to be easy,” UNC’s Leaky Black said. “And then 5 minutes into the game, I guess we started panicking and going back to the stuff we were doing at the beginning of the season. That made it tough on us. We’re not going to win games like that.”
Duke: The Blue Devils entered the game slightly ahead of UNC, Notre Dame and Miami in the ACC standings and forcefully maintained that perch. Their confident performance included making 9 of 19 3-pointers and taking a 40-24 rebounding advantage. More simply, Griffin and fellow freshman Paolo Banchero (13 points) were matchup problems with the Tar Heels only having Black as a potentially solid matchup.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t divide Leaky into two players and we just didn’t have an answer for those two,” Davis said.
UNC: Other than Manek, the Tar Heels got little consistent scoring, including a struggle-filled night from No. 2 scorer Caleb Love with eight points on 3-for-10 shooting with four turnovers. Beyond the coaching spotlight, there’s another growing storyline to watch: the Tar Heels’ NCAA Tournament chances. They entered Saturday sitting at No. 36 in the NCAA’s NET rankings with an 0-6 record in Quadrant 1 games that headline any resume. With the ACC having only Duke inside the AP Top 25, this represented a huge chance for the Tar Heels to help themselves.
“I thought for the most part, we played hard,” Davis said. “We just didn’t play smart and we didn’t play together.”
Duke: The Blue Devils return home to host Virginia on Monday.
UNC: The Tar Heels visit Clemson on Tuesday.