If there were any questions about Duke's heart and maturity remaining, those have now been answered. The Blue Devils put together a complete performance against an incredibly talented team in a hostile environment to earn this victory. There is no question that last year's team would not have been able to win this kind of game, in fact they didn't when given the chance.
A good illustration is the performance at the free throw line during crunch time. During the second half the Blue Devils were 8-of-8, and 5-of-6 in overtime while shooting 22-o-26 for the game.
The high level of play starts with Chris Duhon, who has taken the reigns of this team and made it his own. On the night the senior point guard matched up with everyone from Raymond Felton to Jawad Williams, with a long stint spent checking McCants. The long night on the defensive end meant his offense was put on the back burner, though when it counted he was able to switch gears. It's fair to say that after a rough season last year, Chris is finally delivering on the hype.
Rather than getting into an up and down shootout with the Tar Heels, Duke started off pounding the ball inside to Shelden Williams, who responded with his best offensive, if not overall, performance to date. Working against Shavlik Randolph each day in practice has obviously rubbed off on the big guy as he's developing a nice little arsenal of post move.
Aside from a small lull during the middle of the second half that saw Duke use some questionable shot selection, and played a part in UNC's ability to rally from five points down to take a seven point lead, the offense was generally very good. However when Williams went to the bench, the Devils seemed content to take outside jump shots over working it inside to either Randolph or Deng.
Defensively Duke continued to play with great intensity and fire, though at times the Heels' offense was just unstoppable. Still the play of the night on the defensive end came courtesy of Williams when he blocked a Sean May dunk attempts late in overtime, preserving a one point lead. The Blue Devils also did a great job of shutting down the UNC offense over the final six minutes, holding them without a field goal for over five minutes while rallying. The key was communication and very good switches after being screened. It made getting open looks for the Heels nearly impossible, though it didn't matter on the pair of threes.
What Went Wrong:
While it's hard to focus on the glass being half empty after an emotional win like this, there are a few things that jumped out during the course of the game. For starters the Blue Devils got out-rebounded badly tonight, 46-39 including 21-14 on the offensive glass.
While some of those were due to the ball bouncing around and eventually taking a bounce towards a UNC player, though most times it was due to the Heels' hustle and Duke's lack of effort boxing out. A good example came in the second half when McCants fired up a three that was well short only to coast in and easily get the put back after the Duke defender stopped and began to head up court.
The UNC hustle proved to be the turning point in the game as Duke all of a sudden began settling for jumpers while the Tar Heels began to attack and seemed to beat the Bleu Devils to every loose ball. It wasn't until the timeout with less than four minutes remaining that Duke finally found their defensive intensity again.
One last thought: It would be good to see Duke go inside with the same frequency and effort when Shavlik is spelling Shelden inside. Getting the big guy some confidence one the offensive end will be crucial to developing more depth with Deng able to play all over the court. When Williams went to the bench last night, it was Randolph in the middle with Deng at the big forward position – however Duke quickly became a jump shooting at that point.
Player of the Game:
While Duhon stole the show, it was Shelden Williams who carried the Blue Devils early on, by owning the paint on both ends of the floor. By logging team high 22 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks, Williams is this week's player of the game.
The first half of the ACC is now in the books with the Blue Devils holding a full two game lead over NC State, along with an undefeated record. The second half of the ACC slate features five home games with trips to NC State, Florida State, and Wake Forest looming. Winning five of the last eight games should be enough to earn another ACC title, though you can bet Coach Krzyzewski isn't buying into that kind of thinking.
The schedule resumes Sunday when Clemson comes to town looking to redeem a bad early season loss at Littlejon. Duke will need to concentrate on defending the perimeter to avoid the upset, as the Tigers demonstrated the ability to beat anyone when they handily beat North Carolina last weekend.