Duke and North Carolina have met in plenty of massive end-of-the season showdowns through the years.
This one won’t have quite the impact from a big-picture perspective because of North Carolina’s struggles this season, though the Tar Heels have hit a recent groove.
And for No. 12 Duke, there’s still a chance to snatch a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title when they tangle with the Tar Heels on Saturday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C.
“If you don’t continue to develop throughout the year, it’s going to be sad for you,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We have a lot of young guys.”
Duke (24-6, 14-5 ACC) lost two games in a row before a stellar second half on Monday night produced an 88-69 home victory against North Carolina State.
“I think that stretch we did have (losing three out of four games), we weren’t attacking as much,” Duke guard Tre Jones said. “We didn’t have a lot of energy, and we seemed pretty flat.”
North Carolina (13-17, 6-13) has found a way out of the doldrums, following a seven-game losing streak with three consecutive victories. That’s the best stretch for the Tar Heels since November.
“We have all been on the same page,” North Carolina senior guard Brandon Robinson said. “(Coach Roy Williams) has been telling us … that we are not done yet.”
The Tar Heels have posted victories against N.C. State, Syracuse and Wake Forest during the streak. The 93-83 victory against Wake Forest marked one of their best offensive games of the season, shooting 50.8 percent from the field.
North Carolina forward Garrison Brooks has scored 25 or more points in each of the past three games, something a Tar Heel hadn’t done since 2008.
“Things have been clicking, and practice has been going well,” North Carolina guard Cole Anthony said. “We are just really starting to play well together.”
Duke won 98-96 in overtime when the teams met last month, as the Tar Heels coughed up leads down the stretch in regulation and again in overtime. Duke’s Wendell Moore Jr. made the winning basket off a rebound at the buzzer after Jones largely spearheaded the earlier comebacks.
“We won a game that North Carolina played better than us in and we won by one possession,” Krzyzewski said upon reflection this week.
North Carolina already has been assured of a spot in Tuesday’s ACC Tournament slate as one of the bottom four seeds for the five-day event.
Duke won’t play again until Thursday’s quarterfinals, though its seed could be anywhere from No. 2 to No. 4.
It will be Senior Night for Duke, which has a class consisting of backups Javin DeLaurier, Jack White and Justin Robinson. Robinson, son of former NBA player David Robinson, has rarely played during stretches of the season, but he has made significant contributions in two of the past three games, including a season-high 10 points on Monday night.
“What a good story he is of persistence,” Krzyzewski said.
North Carolina forward Armando Bacot, who had 12 points in the first Duke game before fouling out, didn’t play Tuesday night because of an ankle injury. Williams said he thought Bacot would be ready based on the team’s earlier shoot-around before the decision was made to hold him out.
–Field Level Media