Duke was able to fight through an early UNC run to shake off the emotional baggage that senior night brings and quickly close an early three possession gap. While it may not have seemed overly crucial at the time, the ability to keep the Heels within striking distance early prevented an early double-figure deficit that would have been most difficult to climb out of.
Offensive the Blue Devils got a lift from freshman Luol Deng, who rebounded from a horrible game against Georgia Tech to score a career high 25 points. Deng abandoned his perimeter game in favor of slashing to the basket against anyone the Tar Heels tried to throw at him. The idea of slashing to the basket was a constant theme for most of the night as Duke shot just 11 three pointers on the night. It became apparent that UNC was expecting the Devils to take their usual high number of threes, and when the ball was put on the floor it usually resulted in points.
As a team Duke shot just under 50% on the night thanks to the improve shot selection and willingness to work the ball around instead of just firing up the first available look as they did against Tech.
It was good to see the big lineup revisited with Shelden Williams, Shavlik Randolph, and Luol Deng all on the floor at the same time. The ability to let Randolph move to the big forward slot with Deng on the wing caused a number of match up problems and allowed the Raleigh native to play to his skill sets and not as a center. Though he scored just two points on the night, this was probably one of Shavlik's best games in a long time as he was a force on the boards, and helped out defensively with a pair of big blocks.
Defensively Duke made the needed adjustments in the second half after Rashad McCants was able to get pretty much anything he wanted in the first. After many teams began to expose a seemingly tired Blue Devil roster by shooting over 50%, Coach K's troops rebounded to hold the Heels to just 36.9% shooting on the night. Duke also managed to block six shots, including three by Shelden Williams on Sean May from point blank range.
What Went Wrong:
North Carolina absolutely owned Duke on the glass on both ends of the floor. The Tar Heels pulled down an amazing 20 offensive rebounds, which resulted in a number of easy second chance baskets, and even more looks that were not converted. Though they escaped with a victory Saturday, it's likely that the Blue Devils will look for a more complete effort in the rebounding department in next week's ACC Tournament.
The performance at the free throw line was also not what you would expect from this Duke team as they converted just 11-of the 18 attempts from the charity stripe. If you factor our J.J. Redick's usual perfection, the Devils shot just 3-of-10 on the night. Obviously Redick is a great weapon to have late in the game, but if he can't get the ball in his hands his teammates will need to be able to step up and knock down their free throws.
Aside from some ball handling issues caused by either nerves and/or condensation on the ball and floor due to the heat, it would have been nice to see some more open looks and point blank attempts converted. Though considering the conditions, Duke played pretty well.
Player of the Game:
For not only logging a career high, but also rebounding from his worst career outing with his best, our TDD player of the game is Luol Deng.
With the top seed in the tournament locked up, Duke will return to action Friday afternoon against the winner of the play-in game in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. The long break will hopefully be used to allow the team some time to get their legs back as they prepare for the second season and the Madness of March.
With the back-to-back-to-back nature of the tournament, Duke will need to maximize the use of the reserves to save enough for the later rounds, should they advance. Players such as Randolph, Nick Horvath, Lee Melchionni, and Sean Dockery become very important components in Duke's attempted run at a record sixth straight title.