Duke Steals Round One at the Line vs. North Carolina

By M. Shannon Smallwood
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Free throws.

That’s basically what round one came down to in the Greatest Rivalry in all of Sports, as the Duke Blue Devils made their shots at the line when it counted. On the opposite side of the court, the North Carolina Tar Heels could only muster a 13-23 night at the charity stripe which left fans, players and head coach Roy Williams pulling their hair out in the 73-68 defeat to the rival Blue Devils.

But despite what Carolina lacked at the line, you have to give the Tar Heels major props with their effort in the hostile confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium. Coming off the 26-point beat down to the ACC Leader and undefeated Miami Hurricanes, the UNC faithful didn’t know what to really expect entering tonight’s game against the No. 2 ranked Blue Devils.

What they got was a tremendous game plan by Williams as he went small by starting the hot P.J. Hairston at the four, and team leader Reggie Bullock at the three alongside Marcus Paige, Dexter Strickland and James Michael McCadoo. The move was a brilliant one as it gave the Heels quickness in the half-court set it has lacked in years, and kept Duke on their heels the entire first half.

But there are two halves to every game, and Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski finally started to get some of his whiny calls going his way while Carolina went ice cold from the field. The Blue Devils took the lead with around 14 minutes to go and never looked back, getting the questionable calls going their way for the win in round one.

Guess that classless 10 minutes discussion with the refs at the end of the first half was a well played political move by Krzyzewski.

The other note to take away from this game was the decline of ESPN‘s Dick Vitale as the darling of College Basketball. The entire game was a love fest for Vitale and Duke. It was so bad if you had never seen a basketball game before in your life, you wouldn’t have known North Carolina was on the floor with the Blue Devils. It’s just sad to see a legend such as Vitale and the Mothership in ESPN suck up to Duke they way they did tonight. Even Jay Bilas, who was a standout for the Blue Devils in the 1980s, was having to search to find ways to bring the Tar Heels back into the discussion during the game. Did anyone else out there think Vitale said, “… both teams where shooting S#&!@$y…” or did these ears hear it wrong?

It was just flat nauseating.

But kudos to Mason Plumlee, who played more like Matilda Plumlee most of the night, and the Blue Devils for sweating one out on Coach K‘s birthday.


M Shannon Smallwood is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the US Basketball Writers Association.

Follow him @woodysmalls.

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