Duke basketball outlasts North Carolina to sweep the season series

Duke basketball
Bob Donnan – USA Today Sports

Duke basketball has looked fantastic under new head coach John Scheyer and proved that notion in a close win over rival North Carolina Saturday.

UNC began the year as the No. 1 ranked team in the country. To say that this season hasn’t gone to plan is an understatement. They’re littered with talent, most returning from the 2022 National Championship runner-up team. Both of these teams circle the two games between each other on the calendar, as they seem to mean more to everyone involved.

Duke started strong, knocking down shots early and proving that they’re the better team. UNC was able to score early with transition points but struggled in the half-court offense. Duke’s length and athleticism proved critical, with guys like Kyle Filipowski and Dereck Lively II blocking shots and altering shots in the paint. UNC looked much better when R.J. Davis facilitated the offense but never got into a rhythm in the first half.

In the second half, the Tar Heels came out strong. They got out to a four-point lead in the second half but could not build on it before Duke found their stride again. That’s been the story of the year for North Carolina. As head coach Hubert Davis alluded to post-game, they’ve consistently struggled at building leads.

“In the second half we took a four-point lead, I think it’s been a consistent theme all year where in that time where it’s a great opportunity to extend it,” said Davis. “There’s been a lot of times this year that we haven’t been able to do it.”

The Blue Devils dominated late and pulled off the 62-57 win in the Smith Center, packed with visibly frustrated UNC fans.

What this means for both teams

This game was far more critical for the Tar Heels, while they’ve sat on the bubble of the NCAA tournament predictions for some time now. ESPN’s bracketologist Joe Lunardi now has UNC in the “next four out” group. They’ll need a deep run in the ACC tournament to give them a chance at a tournament berth. This year’s Duke basketball team sits comfortably in position for a six seed, which they could improve upon with a strong showing in the conference tournament.

Both these teams typically don’t have a lot of drama during this time of year, but here we are. Duke could be a sneaky dangerous team come tournament time, while North Carolina faces missing the tournament after being preseason No. 1 in the country.

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