Give the devil his due, if you will, but Matt Doherty had a solid game plan, and his team executed it nearly well enough to win. Certainly few outside of UNC's team thought that the Heels would be within three points late in the second half. But there they were, hanging around. Add to that the fact that Boozer, Jones, and Ewing all had serious foul trouble at the end, and there was potential disaster.
Fortunately for Duke, Duhon and Williams had other plans. With Duke nursing a 5 point lead at the 3:44 mark, Jason Williams stole the ball and ran down for a dunk. UNC called timeout, which was followed by a Boone turnover and a TV timeout. Williams hit a 3 after the timeout, Boone hit a layup, then Chris Duhon stepped up and hit a huge 3 with 1:16 left, giving Duke an 11 point lead. Duhon then hit two foul shots, Morrison hit a 3, Jason Williams nailed two more free throws and that was game.
But what a weird game. For older fans, it likely brought up memories of the dreadful 12-10 game vs. NC State in the late 60s, which at that time denied Duke a shot at the NCAAs, since only one conference team got to go.
The good news was that Duke was put into a highly unusual situation and responded to it well, particularly in the clutch. Boozer, Jones, and Ewing, as mentioned, all had to play down the stretch with 4 fouls each, and all made wise decisions. The other good news is that since UNC spent so much time holding the ball up top, Duke expended less energy than you'd expect in a game like this.
After the game, Coach K said that it was pretty much a tournament game in terms of tension and thinking critically (everything after the word game we said, not Coach K).
You have to ask yourself: has UNC improved over the last part of the season? The answer, definitely, is yes. For one, they managed to hang on to the ball fairly well, whereas earlier in the year, it seemed as if a lot of the players on their team were allergic to leather and wanted nothing to do with it. Adam Boone has become a competent point guard, though he still has a lot of turnovers, and Jawad Williams, as we said Sunday, is improving by leaps and bounds.
For Duke, there were some things to look at. In the first half, UNC got several inside baskets. After not having gotten shots off before halftime on a few occasions earlier in the season, Duke again didn't get an attempt off. And UNC got easy baskets from a couple of inbounds plays near their baskets.
It wasn't a perfect game, but it was a win, and Duke does advance, and with relatively fresh legs to play the winner of the Georgia Tech/Wake Forest game on Saturday. After the game, Jason Williams said that while Maryland won the regular season, and deserved to, that Duke had motivation to win the tournament. We'll see what happens tomorrow, and if that goes well, then on Sunday as well. Stay tuned.