Duke (30-4) opened the third meeting of the season between these heated rivals with an 8-0 spurt and then added a 10-0 run four minutes later to take a commanding 22-8. The Blue Devils stretched that margin to 42-24 before taking a 42-28 lead into halftime.
North Carolina (26-7) utilized a 9-2 run midway through the second half to slice its deficit to 63-54 with 6:01 remaining, but a Seth Curry 3-pointer from the left wing on Duke’s ensuing possession pushed the lead back to double-digits. The Tar Heels would not make a field goal the rest of the game.
Harrison Barnes led North Carolina with 16 on 6-fo-15 shooting, while John Henson scored 10 points and pulled down 18 rebounds. Tyler Zeller added 14 points, four rebounds and three blocks. Nolan Smith paced the Blue Devils with 20 points and 10 assists, and Kyle Singler and Curry both scored 11 points.
North Carolina shot 33.9 percent (21-of-62) from the floor, while Duke knocked down 50.0 percent of its field goal attempts (29-of-58, 9-of-20 3s). The Tar Heels outrebounded the Blue Devils, 44-36.
Barnes and Zeller earned first-team ACC All-Tournament Team honors alongside Smith, Singler and Clemson’s Demontez Stitt. Henson and Kendall Marshall were named to the second team.
INSIDE THE GAME
A Harsh Learning Experience
National player of the year candidate Nolan Smith had showcased his offensive prowess in the first two meetings against North Carolina this season, but on Sunday, the senior guard displayed his abilities on the defensive end of the floor.
Smith made it clear from the tip that he was taking his job of guarding Kendall Marshall personally and the results were telling. After the freshman’s drive to the basket was blocked on UNC’s opening possession, Smith’s smothering defense forced Marshall to commit turnovers on the next two series.
Those 90 seconds were all it took for Duke to claim a 6-0 lead that it would never relinquish.
Smith’s defense was largely responsible for Marshall’s 4:5 assist-turnover ratio. The freshman failed to record an assist in the second half, marking the first time as a starter that he has not been credited with an assist in a half.
“He’s a great defender – he’s very active,” Marshall said of Smith. “I made a lot of stupid plays out there and I didn’t help the team the way I should have.”
Marshall stressed that it’s his responsibility to make sure that North Carolina gets quality shots every time down the court, but Duke presented a new defensive look around the perimeter that confused the Tar Heels and ultimately led to twice as many turnovers (16) as assists (8).
“It’s a credit to Duke’s defense,” Marshall told reporters during his postgame interview. “They had a very unorthodox way of denying our wings. It was almost like they were fronting Harrison and Dexter [Strickland] and Leslie [McDonald] on the wings. So it’s hard to make entry passes like that.”
Marshall finds himself in the unique position of leading a top-10 national program while encountering new experiences with each passing game. Three days ago, this freshman point guard had never played in a postseason contest at the collegiate level.
But don’t mistake that fact for an excuse, at least according to Marshall.
“It comes with the territory,” Marshall said. “I chose to come to Carolina. I chose to put myself in this situation and I’m just going to take it game-by-game and minute-by-minute. It’s a learning process as I go along.”
Role Player Win Goes to Duke
Entering Sunday’s title game, Nolan Smith and Seth Curry had combined for 90 of Duke’s 117 points over the last three halves against North Carolina. But while that Blue Devil duo received the bulk of UNC’s attention early, it was Duke’s secondary players that ignited its initial onslaught.
Through 10 minutes of play, Duke held a 22-8 lead with two combined points from Smith and Curry. Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelley joined Mason and Miles Plumlee to knocked down 11 of their collective 12 first-half field goal attempts and the Blue Devils posted a 15-8 bench scoring advantage through the first 20 minutes.
Harrison Barnes carried North Carolina in first half against Miami and Clemson, outscoring his teammates, 26-24, but Zeller (9 points on 3-of-5 shooting) was the lone Tar Heel to step up on Sunday with the freshman phenom struggling in the early going. Marshall, Henson, Leslie McDonald and Justin Knox combined for 16 first-half points on 5-of-19 shooting.
That trend continued into the second half as Smith and Singler combined for just 11-of-32 shooting for the game, but their teammates carried the load with a combined 18-of-26 performance, including a 7-of-11 mark from 3-point territory.
North Carolina’s two primary scorers, Barnes and Zeller, combined to shoot 11-of-26 on the day, but the other Tar Heels were even less effective, connecting on 10 of their 36 field goal attempts.
“We always talk that you have to focus on Nolan, but you can’t ignore those other guys,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said. “I think they were great today.”
Eight Minutes of Hell… Over and Over Again
North Carolina likely set a record of futility before the second media timeout over the course of the ACC Tournament. Add up those stats for all three games and the numbers are sobering – UNC trailed 50-24 due to 25.8 percent shooting (8-of-31) and 19 turnovers, while its opponents combined to shoot 47.7 percent (21-of-44).