Game Notes: North Carolina at Duke
SLAMonline gives you the low down from Cameron Indoor.
After working in basketball at a full-time level for nearly five years now, there are only a few things that I can say that I’m truly taken back by. The NBA All-Star game, sold out conference finals games, and watching a player score 50 in a game would be a couple. Witnessing Duke/UNC was certainly one of those.
I stepped foot on Duke’s campus about three hours before tip, expecting to possibly get a little grub and settle in before tip-off. Wrong. Things were so chaotic on campus that they weren’t even letting media in the building until 7 p.m. Duke students were congregating by the masses directly outside of Cameron, getting their drink on openly without anyone harassing them. It was truly unlike anything that I’ve ever witnessed before with a prestigious academic institution allowing students to crush Natty-lights a mere 10 feet from the gym right before tip-off. Needless to say, I may or may not have witnessed a little projectile vomiting from a few youngsters before even stepping foot into the gym.
Once inside, the atmosphere was hella hyped. Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry were the first two players out getting shots up, jacking up three after three on the move to simulate game situations where they’d be sliding down and catching a pass from Nolan Smith. Harrison Barnes was the first cat to take the floor for UNC and, as you can guess, was granted with a flurry of boos and taunts from the Cameron Crazies, who didn’t hold anything back whatsoever. Barnes was wearing a dope pair of Carolina blue Beats, which still somehow managed to get hated on.
Once the game started, UNC got off to a quick 8-0 start off of the rip by pushing the tempo and pressuring the hell out of Duke. Kendall Marshall was looking like Jason Kidd out there as a set-up guy and the duo of Tyler Zeller and John Henson were both closing in on double-doubles before the first half even came to an end. UNC walked into the break with a 14-point lead, but that wouldn’t last long. Duke came out the gates sizzling, dropping three after three and slowly cutting into the Tar Heel lead. Nolan Smith and Seth Curry were both en fuego and had 26 of Duke’s 32 second half points at one point. UNC’s heralded freshman seemingly got a little shook in the second half and didn’t have the savvy that gave them their lead early on. North Carolina eventually fell to Duke by the score of 79-72.
Here are a few of the things that we took away from Duke’s 33rd consecutive win at home:
Nolan Smith IS the ACC Player of The Year — Kyrie Irving was making a strong case for the award before he went down with what has been a debilitating toe injury, but Smith has picked up the slack at point guard for his pal in the backcourt. After a strong summer at the NC Pro-Am, he showed off his fearlessness against UNC by repeatedly attacking Tyler Zeller and John Henson once he got in the paint. Known as just as primarily just a slasher in the past, Smith has gotten his J to a level where defenses have to play him honest or they’ll get burned. No he’s not a natural point and no he’s doesn’t have ideal size for a 2, but the guy can simply play basketball. Smith offers all of the intangibles that you look for in a glue guy off of the bench and is capable of playing either guard spot in a flash. Having covered him for over six years now, I can say that this cat has honestly added something new to his game each and every year, and I don’t expect that to stop once he hits the League.
North Carolina will go as far as their freshmen take them – Kendall Marshall made most Tar Heel fans say “Larry who?” After former McDonald’s All-American point guard Larry Drew decided to transfer this past week. The long heralded VA boy destroyed Duke in the first half with his ability to control the tempo and make pin-point passes, only to simmer down in the second half. Harrison Barnes, the near consensus No. 1 recruit in the country (not by us), finished with a pedestrian 9 after putting up 23 ppg over the last three games. The third McDonald’s All-American, 6-7 swingman Reggie Bullock, may have had a search party called for him because dude was nowhere to be found. It’s a bit unfair to place such a heavy burden on three guys who were sippin’ chocolate milks in their HS cafeterias this time last year, but life isn’t always fair…
To live and die by the three — Duke is a team that has always been known for its three-point shooting. Well, a shooter who can’t shoot isn’t a very good player… just as a shooting team that isn’t hitting their shots probably won’t fare too well. This was the story with Duke in the first half, where they only converted on two three-pointers. Duke still wound up shooting well below their average for the game at just 30 percent, but the momentum that they gained from huge threes by Curry and Smith was enough to rally the troops. Curry, who posted career highs in both minutes (35) and points (22) as a Dukie, straight had flashbacks of his Liberty days where he was an unstoppable scorer. Once he got a couple of threes to fall, Steph’s baby bro was able to shed defenders playing him too closely with a quick shot fake or jab step to open up his mid-range game. If Kyrie Irving comes back and Curry continues to build his confidence, I don’t see anyone beating Duke.
Tyler Zeller and John Henson can give you hell up front — Tyler Zeller has been doing his thing now, but last night continued the streak of outstanding play for a while for the emerging Henson. After playing small forward for the majority of last year, Roy Williams shifted the 6-10 sophomore to his more natural position on the blocks where he is able to use his size and length to give people fits. With his ability to face you up and finish with either hand, Henson can be a problem when he’s willing to take you both inside and out as seen by his three double-doubles in the last four years. As long as Zeller stays healthy, dude is one of the best centers in the game and will give you consistent numbers on the regular. These two will be absolutely crucial in UNC’s chances to dance deep into March.