Jason Williams scored 37 points as the Blue Devils rocked the Tar Heels, 93-68, before a frenzied crowd of 9,314 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Williams’ effort was a point shy of equaling his career high and came in his last game ever at home. Even though he is just a junior, Williams and fellow junior Carlos Boozer are leaving Duke after this season to play in the NBA. Along with senior Matt Christensen, they were honored in their last games at Cameron, on essentially “Senior/Junior Day.”
“That’s what makes Duke so dangerous,” said UNC senior center Kris Lang. “They can hit the deep shot right from the get-go and make an early run and that’s what they did. That’s something you don’t want to happen, but if it happens you can’t quit and that’s something we didn’t do. We kept battling no matter what the score said at the end.”
Duke was in control the entire game although the gritty Tar Heels made it interesting for a brief moment in the second half.
A baseline jumper and a pair of 3-pointers by Jason Capel cut Duke’s margin to 60-47 with 14:34 left in the game.
Duke, however, answered with a lightning quick 8-2 run keyed by a Chris Duhon 3-pointer, a Mike Dunleavy fast-break slam after a steal and a another trey by the Portland, Ore., junior.
“That was a key moment for us because they were making a run,” Dunleavy said of Duke’s pressure that forced UNC into 25 turnovers as it did in Chapel Hill last month. “We stepped up our defense and forced a couple of turnovers that led to easy buckets.”
This is when an ugly game got even more unbecoming.
Already sloppy in some respects by both teams and incredibly physical and intense, especially for a game not much in doubt, the rough nature of the action began to prompt reactionary responses.
After being whistled for a charging foul, Carolina’s Adam Boone and Duke’s Williams were each called for technical fouls as they exchanged words and slight pushes walking back up the court with a little more than 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Less than four minutes later, UNC freshman Jawad Williams reacted to a shove by Christensen and was also slapped with a technical foul. Even though the Blue Devils had a 24-point advantage at the time, the incident exemplified the reality that this rivalry clearly remains in tact.
“Christensen got a dunk and turned around and pushed me,” UNC’s Williams said. “And, I wasn’t gonna get punked so I threw an elbow back at him and got caught. They always get the retaliation.”
UNC coach Matt Doherty was called for the first of the games’ five technical fouls in the opening half while disputing an officials’ call.
Duke’s lead hovered around the 25-point mark the rest of the way. And despite the chants of “Show no mercy” from Duke’s boisterous student body, the Devils were unable to extend the lead much more and Williams, who along with Boozer was taken out of the game with 1:26 left, couldn’t reach the 40-point mark.
Williams’ total was the most points scored against UNC this season by an individual player. Kentucky’s Tayshaun Prince had 31 in December.
Dunleavy scored 17 points for the Blue Devils (26-3, 13-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) and Boozer added 14 and Dahntay Jones chipped in 10.
UNC (8-19, 4-12) was led by Capel’s 28 points. Williams was Carolina’s only other player in double figures with 14.
The opening four minutes of the contest belonged to the All-American Williams. Duke quickly opened up an 18-6 lead behind 12 points from Williams, with one 3-pointer coming from at least 30 feet.
“We knew they were gonna come out making shots,” said Capel. “They had just lost a game and we knew they were gonna come out and try to jump on us early. They did. I thought we did a great job of responding and taking their punches, but they’re a great team. I think we didn’t give up but it was hard to come back.”
The Heels slowed the Devils a bit - all things considered - and closed to 22-13 with 12:05 left in the half on a Brian Bersticker put-back from five feet.
Duke’s Williams, however, responded with a pair of 3-pointers to give the Blue Devils a 19-13 advantage.
Although Duke went ahead 38-18 with 7:05 left before intermission, UNC kept fighting. The Heels forced a few turnovers and drew four quick fouls on the Devils, and cut the margin to 42-27 with 1:53 left on a Jawad Williams 3-pointer and a pair of free throws by Capel.
“When he gets going like that it’s special,” said Duke’s Jones. “He can lift us for moments at times and he did tonight.”
Yet another 3-pointer by Duke’s Williams, who had 23 points in the first half, gave Duke a 47-31 lead.
But for the Heels, who enter the ACC Tournament as the seventh seed and set to square off with Duke in the quarterfinals on Friday night, the next game offers a new start to an otherwise dreary season.
“The thing is, everything starts over now,” Lang said. “This is where you can earn respect now. That’s the bottom line now, to go out there and earn your respect.”
Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He is also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.