From The Stands: Duke vs. UNC

Heading into Wednesday's match up with No.2 North Carolina, Duke had a specific game plan that had to be followed. Though they were considered underdogs by many, the Blue Devils stayed poised and never allowed North Carolina to set them up for a knockout punch, forcing the Heels out of their comfort zone before holding on for a 71-70 victory. <I>TDD</I> examines the match up.

What Went Right:

- There was no doubt that for the Blue Devils to have a chance they'd have to play well on the defensive end. Coach K's troops responded in a big way by forcing the Tar Heels into 12 first half turnovers, and 23 for the game. Of those 23 turnovers, 17 were credited as Duke steals as the Blue Devils made a living of over playing the passing lanes and forcing North Carolina into several bad passes.

- When the Blue Devils weren't able to come up with the steal, they were challenging the Tar Heel jump shooters, holding UNC to 43% shooting for the game and just 21% from the perimeter. Considering that the Heels came in shooting over 50% on the season, the Duke defense was certainly the key to the victory. If the Tar Heels were able to get past their initial defenders, Shelden Williams was usually waiting in the paint for the block or to alter the shot – he finished with five blocks on the night.

- One of the major factors for Duke being able to force North Carolina into bad decisions and contested jump shots was the pace of the game. From the opening tip it was clear that the Heels wanted to get out and run, run, run. Duke, on the other hand, was content to run when the opportunity was there, but never got suckered in to the track meet the Heels so desperately wanted. It showed early as UNC scored just 29 first half points, and just 70 for the game – over 22 points fewer than their season average.

- Duke also keyed in on the players who could hurt them the most and made a point of slowing them down. The defense forced Rashad McCants into a dismal shooting night, and once things weren't going his way the moody junior seemed disinterested and lethargic down the stretch. For the game Duke held McCants to 3-of-13 shooting from the floor and just 1-of-8 from the perimeter. The second Tar Heel to be hounded all night was Raymond Felton, who logged just three assists and a season high eight turnovers, including throwing the ball away on the final possession. Sometimes Duke lost Felton, who simply drove to the basket whenever he saw an opening, but for the most part the Blue Devils were able to keep him in front and force him into the help defense, which was often waiting.

- Offensively, the Blue Devils had little margin for error. Throughout his career, J.J. Redick hasn't played overly well against the Heels, and that was the case for a good portion of the game on Wednesday. After knocking down a long three to open the scoring, Redick went cold from the field, taking a number of difficult shots. Though several times he found himself on the ground from contact, which Billy Packer "didn't see anything wrong with", Redick's offense didn't pick up against until after halftime. From that point he managed to hit a couple of crucial three pointers to finish with 18 points.

- In the paint Duke got what it needed from Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph as the two juniors managed to avoid fouling out, and provided rebounding and occasional scoring. As Duke continued to look inside in the second half, Williams earned several trips to the line, while Randolph altered a number of shots and managed to come up with a couple of crucial rebounds down the stretch.

- In previewing the match up, TDD mentioned that Duke would have to get a solid contribution from someone outside the big three of Daniel Ewing, Redick, and Williams. That person stepped up in the form of DeMarcus Nelson, who scored a career best 16 points while also logging four steals, and three assists while handling the ball more than he has all season. After a rough start, Nelson connected on a couple of inside baskets before heading to the perimeter where he knocked down a pair of crucial three pointers to help Duke build and maintain the lead. With his long arms, quick feet, and strong body, the Tar Heels couldn't match up with the freshman.

- Finally, Duke came through on the free throw line, hitting 21-of-22 from the charity stripe. Given UNC's ability to explode at any time, the ability to score points while resting at the line was crucial.

What Went Wrong:

- Duke struggled mightily from the field on Wednesday, hitting just 36% from the field for the game, including several wild shots that had little rhyme or reason. Several times it seemed as though the offense reverted into the kind of one on one play that seemed destined to doom the Blue Devils.

- And while the perimeter jumpers were falling with regularity, Duke had a couple of stretches where Shelden Williams was all but forgotten inside. Without balancing out several offensive stretches, it allowed North Carolina to get rebounds and quickly move down-court. It happened in the first half as UNC rallied with a 13-2 spurt to take their first lead, and to start the second half when Carolina came within a point before Duke scored their first second half points.

- The Blue Devils were also absolutely killed on the boards as North Carolina's size along the front line produced a 43-28 advantage on the glass, and 17 offensive rebounds which resulted in a 16-6 UNC lead in second chance points. UNC also attacked the rim and kept looking inside, rolling to a 40-20 advantage in points in the paint.

Player of the Game:

Without question this was a terrific time for freshman DeMarcus Nelson to have his break out game. After all, this was the biggest stage college basketball has to offer and Nelson took advantage in a very big way. His 16 points, four steal, three assist performance while playing a career best 29 minutes helped Duke grow and maintain the lead, and his defense was that of a junior, not a freshman. As he continues to figure out exactly what the coaching staff expects from him in terms of intensity and effort, the 6'3 California native will certainly have more games like this one. For his efforts on Wednesday, Nelson is our TDD Player of the Game.

Next Play:

The celebration started Wednesday night, and ends on Thursday as Duke returns to the practice court to prepare for a trip to College Park for a rematch with the Maryland Terrapins. Last time Duke played its worst game of the season, losing by nine to the Terps in Cameron. With the ACC title's fate now controlled solely by Duke, the Blue Devils will look to match the defensive effort seen against the Tar Heels, while continuing to evolve the offense.

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