Tyler Thornton and the rest of the Blue Devils crashed UNC's senior day. Credit: ROBERT WILLETT
CHAPEL HILL—Well, that was unexpected. Duke thoroughly dominated UNC from the opening tip until the final buzzer, and Andrew Carter details the in between in the game story here. Mason returned to his player of the year form, and—get this—Roy Williams lost for the first time on senior day. Ever. That spans 25 years as a head coach and 10 as an assistant to Dean Smith. Hard to believe, but it's true: Duke hadn't closed out the season with a win in Chapel Hill since 2001, when the Carlos Boozer-less Blue Devils ran all over the Tar Heels.
I'm writing a bigger picture take on what this means for Duke later today, and I'll link it here when it's up. In the meantime, a few quick thoughts I jotted down during the game:
• Freshmen Rasheed Sulaimon didn’t start for just the second time this season, as Tyler Thornton took his place. Mike Krzyzewski had been critical of Sulaimon Friday, saying, "He’s got to react a little bit differently. More energy, better defense, rebounding.” Thornton made his first attempt from the field, a 3-pointer that put Duke up 5-0. Sulaimon first entered the game at the 15:13 mark and recorded just one first-half point and three rebounds. He played just two second-half minutes and didn't record any stats.
With 13:37 left in the game, Thornton dived for a loose ball and threw it off of Reggie Bullock to give the Blue Devils possession. Plays like that are the reason Thornton got the start over Sulaimon.
Thornton also successfully bottled up the much larger Reggie Bullock (the Tar Heel has six inches on Thornton) as Bullock, who averages 14.4 points per game, was held to just eight.
"Bullock is one of the best players in the country, not just the conference," Krzyzewski said. "Just a terrific basketball player—and we needed someone who would make him work and hopefully make it more difficult for him, and Tyler Thornton has that assignment."
• After the game, Mason Plumlee was most excited to talk about Duke's defensive effort. Defense has always been a point of pride for Krzyzewski (though thankfully not in a way that stymies any offensive rhythm), and there was plenty to be proud of last night.
It was just the fourth time all year that UNC has been held below 60 points. The Tar Heels are 0-4 in those games (Indiana, Virginia, Miami and Duke). The 33.9 percent UNC shot from the floor was the second-lowest mark all season for the Tar Heels. Only a 31.3 percent effort from the field at Texas was lower.
Duke's defense was on point right from the tip, as UNC's first five possessions resulted in two missed shots and three turnovers. At that point, Duke led 14-0. UNC only cut the deficit to single digits once, at 14-5 with 15:04 left in the first quarter. A Curry jump shot on the next possession kept that lead in double digits for good.
"It reminded me of us playing at their place last year," Williams said (UNC led 48-24 at the last and won 88-70). "Never letting them get back in the game, and that's basically what happened today."
• Even with Ryan Kelly playing just 11 first-half minutes—Krzyzewski said afterwards that he was tired—Duke’s offense was borderline unstoppable in the opening half. The Blue Devils shot 69.2 percent from the floor, and, at one point, were 13-for-16 from the floor. UNC, at the same time, was 4-for-16 and finished the half shooting 27.3 percent from the field.
The 24 first-half points represented the second-lowest output for the Tar Heels this season (they scored 18 in the first 20 minutes against Butler in November). Entering the game, UNC was 1-4 from scoring fewer than 31 first-half points.
• The Tar Heels went to a 2-3 zone for two possessions in the second half when Seth Curry was on the bench for Duke. The move resulted in two Duke turnovers. Virginia Tech also had some success with a 2-3 zone against Duke, but a couple of 3-pointers broke that. UNC went back to man-to-man after a TV timeout.
• Seth Curry had a hot hand early at Virginia Tech, scoring 19 points on 5-of-10 shooting, but he outdid that performance in the first half against the Tar Heels. Curry made his first seven shots, including a tough turnaround jumper as he was running the baseline and then a seated jumper as he slipped in the lane. The senior finished with 18 first-half points on 8-of-10 shooting from the floor.
"I did a terrible job in him in the first half," Reggie Bullock said. "He was making some tough shots. I wasn't sliding my feet fast enough."
Luke DeCock has much more on Curry's night here.
That's it for now. Check back later today for that big-picture story and a look at my all-ACC ballot.