Lawson assumed his traditional role as No. 3 North Carolina’s traffic director when the highly-anticipated 226th edition of this rivalry tipped shortly after 9 p.m., working to find shots for what he calls the “Big Three” – Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green. But with that triumvirate posting just 17 points on 5-of-16 shooting in the first 20 minutes and the Tar Heels trailing 52-44 at halftime, the Clinton, Md. product etched his place in this rivalry’s rich history.
Lawson, who attempted just two shots before the break, finished the contest by connecting on 8-of-11 field goal attempts, most coming on tough drives through the vaunted Duke defense.
“He’s really strong and he’s strong with the ball...” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Lawson. “He played a great game tonight. It was almost impossible for us to defend him on every exchange.”
With North Carolina’s bigs bunching up in the lane in the first half, the Tar Heels worked to create more spacing in the second. UNC head coach Roy Williams used his high-ball screen more effectively, instructing his post players to roll out to the perimeter instead of their typical break down the lane to open the paint for the speedy point guard.
“In the first half, I took maybe three shots and I really didn’t go to the basket at all because it was real clogged up in the lane,” said Lawson, whose 25 points is his most-ever in a ACC contest. “But Coach told me I had to change in the second half and go to the basket [and] be way more aggressive.”
Lawson’s take-charge approach, combined with the good side of a Jekyll and Hyde defensive performance, allowed North Carolina (22-2, 8-2 ACC) to carve out a 44-19 run, including a 14-0 spurt, over the first 16 minutes of the second in building an 88-71 lead.
After the Tar Heels jumped out to a 29-18 lead behind 10 of Deon Thompson’s 12 points, the fifth-ranked Blue Devils connected on nine of their next 11 shots in darting out to a 52-44 halftime lead. Duke (20-4, 7-3 ACC) drained a staggering 61.8 percent (21-of-34) of their field goal attempts before the break.
But UNC displayed more energy and better effort in help defense in the second half, holding the Blue Devils to 36.1 percent (13-of-36). North Carolina connected on 54.8 percent (34-of-62) of its field goals overall, including a 59.4 clip in the final 20 minutes. Duke shot 48.6 percent for the game.
“I think we were more into it because we were sorry in the first half, and that’s what I told them at halftime,” Williams said. “We said we were going to come over here and guard people and show a sense of urgency and we didn’t do that on the defensive end [in the first half].”
The infamous Cameron Crazies were exuberant as usual for the first 30 minutes of action, tossing out humorously creative chants at the Tar Heels, leaving no stone unturned. But the image that will live in North Carolina fans’ minds will be that of Duke senior Greg Paulus feverishly begging the Crazies to raise their decibel level in the final minutes from his spot on the Blue Devils bench.
Hansbrough (17 points, six rebounds) and Green (15 points, five rebounds) join Wake Forest’s Rusty LaRue and Tim Duncan as the only players to actually play in four straight wins at Cameron Indoor against a Krzyzewski-led team.
So will Hansbrough miss playing in arguably the nation’s most hostile environment?
“I’m going to miss playing everywhere, but I’m glad I’ve never been beaten here,” the three-time All-American said.
North Carolina’s 101 points marks the first time in 26 years that a Duke opponent has broken the century mark at Cameron in a normal regulation game, and the first time since the Duke-Carolina epic 1995 double-overtime game that anyone has scored 100 at Cameron in any game situation.
“I thought overall we played well,” Krzyzewski said. “But we’re not as good as they are right now. They’re better than we are.”
Wayne Ellington added 15 points on 4-of-15 shooting for the Tar Heels, and Bobby Frasor drilled three early 3-pointers that totaled his production on the night.
Kyle Singler led Duke with 22 points, while Jon Scheyer (20), Gerald Henderson (17) and Jon Scheyer (11) joined the sophomore forward in double digits.
The Tar Heels' victory moves them into sole possession of first place in the ACC with a 8-2 conference record.