Senior night at the Dean Smith Center featured the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils. Even though North Carolina had the #1 seed locked up in the ACC tournament, they still wanted revenge. These two long-time rivals played just one month prior and the Blue Devils topped UNC 86-78. In that game, Joel Berry II struggled from three-point range while Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen excelled. One of the most anticipated match-ups of the season came down to the wire.
North Carolina’s season finale would be telling on how they build momentum toward the ACC tournament. Duke’s Kennard put on a show and displayed to the world why he is the best player on the team. His 28 points single-handedly made this a game and kept the Blue Devils from a lopsided loss. Not to be outdone on the other side was Berry making his presence felt scoring 28 points and went 5-for-5 from the three-point line. But where they differ is the help from the “non-stars”. UNC’s Isaiah Hicks played stellar adding 21 points and 9 rebounds. Berry’s running mate Justin Jackson struggled shooting 6-for-17 while going 1-for-7 from three but was still in attack mode all night.
A battle like this between two powerhouses will usually come down to which team does the little things. North Carolina fought on the offensive glass and in the paint tonight. They had four more offensive rebounds but added 44 points in the paint and 15 second-chance points which are crucial to winning a game of this magnitude. With the game in the balance, Berry showed why he was a Preseason All-American selection. He scored seven straight points down the stretch to help UNC create a little separation to end the game strong. Grayson Allen had a peculiar game, to say the least. Yet again, he got called for a technical foul after elbowing Brandon Robinson on a drive to the basket. In more disappointing fashion, Allen couldn’t make free throws for Duke down the stretch which contributed to the loss.
North Carolina’s ACC Tournament chances
After a great win against a rival, North Carolina has to be feeling good and on the path to redeem that National Championship lost from last season. There are a few slight differences between this year’s team and last year’s. One major difference is Berry. Berry and Jackson have great rapport with one another and it has resulted in a 26-6 season with 14 total wins in the ACC. The Tar Heels won’t open play in the ACC Tournament until Thursday’s quarterfinals due to their seeding. But with the team fully healthy and roles fully defined, North Carolina is poised to make real noise in the ACC and NCAA tournament.
Duke’s ACC Tournament Hopes
Duke has been a tough team to define due to so many highs and lows. Kennard has been great all year and still led them to a solid 23-8 season. Grayson Allen and Jayson Tatum will be the x-factors on how far of a run the Blue Devils can possibly make. With the lack of depth comes more pressure on the “others” to play above their potential. Frank Jackson must also run the team to continue to let Grayson Allen play off-ball to utilize his scoring abilities. Having an all-time great coach like Coach Mike Krzyzewski brings high expectations. And first-round draft talent like Harry Giles is another player that can also come alive in the tournament. He has the ability and length to affect opponents but he just has to build more confidence. If these players can put it all together, they’ll be scary for any team to defeat. The Duke Blue Devils’ first game in the ACC Tournament will start in Wednesday’s second round.