DURHAM, N.C. – No. 18 Duke made 13 3-pointers, including 7-of-12 in the second half, to knock off No. 8 North Carolina, 86-78, at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Thursday.
With Isaiah Hicks sidelined due to a strained left hamstring, the Tar Heels’ strength inside was negated. The Blue Devils’ strength on the perimeter was not, as Grayson Allen led all scorers with 25 points and seven 3-pointers on 12 attempts. Duke’s 13 3-pointers are the most by a UNC opponent this season.
The Tar Heels were unable to control the boards (30-31) despite leading the nation in rebound margin, but were able to outscore Duke, 12-3, in second-chance points. UNC's starting frontcourt of Kennedy Meeks and Luke Maye combined for seven rebounds (one offensive).
UNC led 71-70 with 6:50 to play, but missed six of its last seven field goal attempts and failed to score a field goal in the final 2:58.
"I didn't like our rebounding and I didn't like our lack of scoring from inside," UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters following the loss.
UNC didn’t help its cause at the free throw line, missing seven of its 15 attempts, including the front end of a 1-and-1, after halftime.
Duke shot 52.6 percent from the floor (48.1 percent from 3-point range) and averaged 1.27 points per possession. UNC countered at 52.5 percent (33.3 percent 3FG) and managed 1.13 points per possession.
Meeks Held in Check
Without Isaiah Hicks available, Kennedy Meeks became the centerpiece of UNC’s interior game. The Blue Devils were ready, fronting the Tar Heel senior on nearly every possession and helping on the backside. As a result, Meeks attempted just two shots in the first half, scoring his lone bucket on a baseline cut for a layup.
"I didn't think he moved very well at times, but they're good defensively," Williams said. "They have lot of guys that are similar size-wise, so they switch a lot of things. But we didn't get very good movement inside. I was disappointed in that."
UNC made an effort out of halftime to get Meeks more involved, and he responded early, scoring seven points and grabbing five rebounds before being quieted again late. The Charlotte, N.C. product finished with nine points and five rebounds.
“It’s definitely frustrating, because you want to come into the game and demand the ball, and they just denied me the ball and fronted me and the guard was on the backside, so that made it difficult for me,” Meeks said. “There’s not really much you can do. I tried to turn it up on defense for us the best I could and some plays fell short.”
Duke took control of the game with an 11-4 spurt out of halftime to take a 51-43 lead with 16:57 to play. UNC immediately responded by scoring 20 points on its next nine possessions – good for a 2.2-points-per-possession average – and making eight consecutive field goals to take a 63-59 lead with 12:17 to play.
The Tar Heels outscored the Blue Devils, 20-8, over the 5:01 stretch.
UNC point guard Seventh Woods has endured a difficult transition to the college game as a freshman. On his biggest stage of the season, however, Woods turned in his best stretch midway through the first half, scoring four points on 2-of-3 shooting, dishing out a team-high four assists and playing solid defense in eight minutes.
UNC announced approximately 90 minutes before tip that senior forward Isaiah Hicks would miss the game with a strained left hamstring. He suffered the injury during a fast break drill in practice on Wednesday and is listed as day-to-day.
“I just think if we had Isaiah, the game would be a lot different, of course,” Meeks said. “Just because of his presence and what he brings, his veteran leadership. To not have him hurts, but we can’t do anything about that. Health comes first and we’ve got to take care of him.”
UNC will enjoy its lone weekend break of the ACC schedule before returning to the road to play N.C. State at PNC Arena on Wednesday. The Wolfpack is 14-11 (3-9 ACC) and has lost four in a row.