The North Carolina Tar Heels started ACC play 0-3, struggled against unranked teams throughout the beginning half of the season and had the entire nation believing that they would not be relevant in the postseason. Well, that was the past, and last night, they defeated the Duke Blue Devils by the score of 74-66 in yet another showing of the greatest rivalry in college basketball. Now, the Tar Heels are on an eight-game win streak, they are near the top in the conference standings and they have without-a-doubt solidified themselves a spot in the NCAA tournament.
The Tar Heels came into this game with all of the momentum in the world, but they did not begin the game with any of it. In the first half, they committed an abundance of turnovers, missed just about every shot that went up, and they could not make a free-throw to save their lives. Their defense did a great job of defending Duke’s three-point shooters, but they completely forgot that an opposing team had the capability to score in the frontcourt. The Tar Heels went into halftime down by seven points, and many people counted them out of the game right then and there.
I do not know what head coach Roy Williams said to his team in the locker room, but whatever it was, it worked. Although they fell victim to an 11 point deficit early in the second half, they finally woke up and started their comeback.
Marcus Paige was scoreless in the first half, but he was the MVP of the game with his performance in the second. He did not commit a foul the entire game, and he found a way to shake the double-coverage and get to the rim. Duke had no answer for him when he finally got hot, and he controlled the Tar Heels’ transition game until the final buzzer. He finished with a solid 13 points, including a clutch three-pointer that put the team right back in the game.
The Tar Heels were led in scoring by Leslie McDonald with 21 points, and not one person expected him to succeed as much as he did. He is having one of the worst shooting seasons of his entire collegiate career, and his scoring numbers have declined drastically. Luckily, McDonald began the game by cashing in on his first three-point attempt, and his mid-range shot was on fire throughout the rest of the game. The Tar Heels have needed him to step up all season, and last night, he finally showed the fans what they wanted to see.
James Michael McAdoo finished with yet another double-double, scoring 10 points along with 10 rebounds. Although he did not have a huge scoring game, he scored when the Tar Heels needed him to. As for the rest of the frontcourt, Kennedy Meeks made up for his lack of scoring with a tremendous defensive game. Brice Johnson got into foul trouble early, but that did not stop him from grabbing six boards and adding to the Tar Heels’ tremendous defensive effort.
I cannot stress enough just how great the team played on the defensive end throughout the most crucial points in the game. They outrebounded Duke 43-30, forced them to shoot just 22.7 percent from beyond the arc and they gave all of Duke’s scorers a hard time every time they took the ball up the floor.
The Blue Devils’ leading scorer Jabari Parker finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds, but most of his highlights came when Meeks was out of the game. Johnson just could not handle Parker’s strength and size, but Meeks’ big body caused him to miss an abundance of shots down low.
I was terrified to see that Rodney Hood came out of the gates firing from all cylinders, because he has been one of Duke’s best deep threats throughout the entire season. Luckily, his foul trouble lead to a decline in his scoring ability, and the Tar Heels were able to neutralize his athleticism with the help of J.P. Tokoto.
Although the Tar Heels were horrible from the charity stripe in the first half, they barely missed a free-throw when it mattered late in the game. The entire Tar Heels team came together and fought hard throughout the entire game to come out with the win. It was an outstanding overall team effort, and now the Tar Heels will once again be relevant in the month of March.