Heels Lose Edge in Post

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 19 North Carolina’s plan to replicate its sizable post scoring differential from the first meeting with No. 3 Duke fizzled out in Saturday’s 84-77 loss.

At Cameron Indoor Stadium less than three weeks ago, UNC scored 62 points in the paint, the most by an ACC school in conference play in four years. More importantly, the Tar Heels outscored the Blue Devils by a 22-point margin in that category.

This time around Duke was the team capitalizing in the paint with a 32-28 advantage.

“They were more aggressive driving the ball to the basket,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters following the game. “Early in the game, we were shooting fadeaways and all kinds of things, and never did get a post presence established inside.”

Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks combined for 36 points on 15-of-20 shooting in the first meeting, but Johnson carried the load at the Smith Center, scoring 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Meeks was a nonfactor, managing just two points on 1-of-7 shooting.

Williams said that “very few” of their field goals were off post moves and that more were turnaround jump shots.

The Tar Heels were also ineffective on the offensive glass, scoring just six second-chance points to Duke’s 12. UNC’s six second-chance points were its second-lowest total of the season.

Adding to UNC’s woes at the rim was an inability for its guards to attack the middle of Duke’s defense, an area that was fertile ground at Cameron Indoor.

“I thought we were much more aggressive trying to get the ball to the basket over there than we were today,” Williams said.

What made Duke’s 32 points in the paint seem more plentiful was the dribble penetration by guards Quinn Cook (20 points) and Tyus Jones (24 points).

“They both can shoot the ball well,” junior guard Marcus Paige said. “They both shoot at or around 40 percent from 3, so either one of them can slide off the ball and be a threat from the outside. And they’re both good at penetrating and probing defenses.”

Duke’s trio of bigs scored just 17 points, led by Jahlil Okafor’s 14 points.

UNC’s game plan in defending Duke’s pick and roll was to use a flat hedge instead of a hard hedge by its big man out front, with the intent to corral the guards instead of blitzing them at the top. That strategy worked early before Jones and Cook figured out a way to exploit the hedge approach.

“What the offensive guard was doing was dragging the screen out and making a play off what they saw,” junior wing J.P. Tokoto said. “They’re good players. They know how to adjust, and they did a good job adjusting.”

By planting a 3-pointer shooter deep in the corner, Duke stretched UNC’s defense on the baseline, thereby forcing the help defender to choose between collapsing to the rim if the hedge failed to contain the penetrating guard and gifting a wide open look from 3 or staying put and allowing a layup.

UNC offset Duke’s dribble penetration for much of the first meeting by seemingly scoring at will down low. That option dried up for the second time in as many games at home, as the Tar Heels scored just 20 points in the paint in their loss to N.C. State last week.

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