In 2019’s first chapter of college basketball’s greatest rivalry, the eighth-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels (21-5, 11-2) went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and knocked off the top-ranked Duke Blue Devils (23-3, 11-2). The 88-72 Tar Heel victory was marred by a freak injury to Duke star freshman Zion Williamson that saw him rip through his Nike PG 2.5’s and while doing so, injured his knee, an injury Coach K called a “mild knee sprain”. Duke basically played the entire game without their best player, as Williamson went down 36 seconds into this highly anticipated matchup. After the Williamson injury, the Tar Heels took it to the Blue Devils, dominating from that point forward. North Carolina’s experienced players showed out in their last game in Cameron Indoor Stadium, as senior forward Luke Maye had one of his best games of the season with 30 points and 15 rebounds on 14-24 shooting and senior guard Cameron Johnson added 26 points of his own on 11-14 shooting. Duke freshman RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish put up 33 and 27 points respectively, but no other Blue Devil had over 10 points. Duke was putrid from three, going 8-39 from beyond the arc. Here are some takeaways from the loss.
Experience still matters
Duke’s star freshman have been the talk of the entire college basketball landscape this season. However, last night North Carolina showed how the older, experienced veterans can still get the job done. North Carolina started three seniors, to Duke’s zero. Maye and Johnson, two seniors, were the two best players on the floor all night long. Maye took over the game after the Williamson injury, scoring at will and dominating the boards. Johnson put up over 26 points for his second straight game, and also filled up the box score by grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out four assists. The Duke freshman take all the headlines, but it was the Carolina experience that came out on top.
There is not much to Duke after the star freshman
RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish both put up points last night, but did so in a very inefficient way. Both took over 22 shots and over 10 threes, but other than Barrett and Reddish, the Duke offense was non-existent. Other star freshman, point guard Tre Jones had quite possibly his worst game of the year, shooting 1-11, including 1-6 from three, and only contributing three points. Javin DeLaurier, Jack White, Alex O’Connell, and Marques Bolden all played over 17 minutes for Duke, and put up a combined 9 points (6 from DeLaurier, 2 from White, and 1 from O’Connell). If Duke wants this season to finish with them cutting down the nets in April, they are going to need super-human efforts from their star freshmen or they have to get contributions from their role players.
North Carolina deserves respect
The eight-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels, a team that has three players from their 2016 National Championship team and is still coached by three-time National Champion Roy Williams opened up as nine point underdogs against Duke. UNC came into this game with a 20-5 record with wins over Gonzaga, Virginia Tech, Louisville, and a close loss to Kentucky were counted out against the mighty, top-ranked Duke team. Williams again showed why he is one of the best coaches in the country, and Luke Maye, a third team All-American and a first-team All-ACC forward in 2018, the preseason ACC player of the year, and a member of the preseason All-American first team showed why he’s still one of the best players in the country. UNC is a really good team, and deserves your respect as we head to March.
UNC vs. Duke is THE marquee matchup and Zion Williamson attracts the stars
The ticket price for the first matchup was approaching Super Bowl level, reaching thousands of dollars for a seat in the arena. MLB hall of famer and one of the best baseball players of all time, Ken Griffey Jr. was in attendance. Oscar nominated director Spike Lee took in some Oscar week basketball in Durham, North Carolina to see Duke vs. Carolina. Former President Barack Obama was in attendance. They were all there to see the best rivalry in college basketball and there to see the most exhilarating talent in college basketball, Zion Williamson.
There is no time to rest in the ACC, as Duke travels up to Syracuse, New York to take on the Syracuse Orange (18-8, 9-4) and will look to avenge the loss to ‘Cuse earlier in the season. The Carrier Dome will be packed and loud on Saturday night with ESPN’s College Gameday in attendance. North Carolina welcomes the 16th ranked Florida State Seminoles (21-5,9-4) to Chapel Hill on Saturday. Duke will have their shot at revenge in the final game of the regular season on March 9.