CHAPEL HILL — Here are three thoughts in the aftermath of Duke's 64-54 win against North Carolina in the Smith Center Wednesday night:
1. The difference in the game was Duke guard Jon Scheyer, who gets my vote as the ACC's Player of the Year if Duke wins the regular season. Scheyer is the player North Carolina simply doesn't have - a consistent backcourt scorer who makes big shots. Scheyer scored 24 points and, although he shot only 7-for-20, his timing was impeccable.
"He's as crafty as you can get," North Carolina point guard Larry Drew said of Scheyer. "You just don't like playing against players like that. He can shoot the ball well. He's quick enough. He's smart. He knows about angles. He's a good actor. And he can shoot."
Scheyer had a 3-pointer to extend Duke's tenuous 49-48 lead to 52-48 with 5 minutes, 31 seconds left, and the Tar Heels never got closer than four again. Then he cinched the game with 2:33 left with another 3-pointer, making it 59-50 and sending fans streaming toward the exits in the Smith Center.
"You have to play the kind of team defense on him I know we can play," Drew said. "I think we did an OK job until it seemed like he started coming down late, and he couldn't miss. And we couldn't score."
Said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski of Scheyer: "He was huge throughout. He had 24, and I thought he played a sensational basketball game."
2. While the outcome wasn't what North Carolina wanted, the effort was there. The Tar Heels played Duke evenly for the first 34 minutes, only to fall away in the final six because they couldn't score.
That sort of focus makes sense in one way. The Tar Heels are such a monumental disappointment (13-11 overall, 2-7 ACC) that they all knew they wouldn't play a bigger game this season. So they tried harder in their own personal Super Bowl.
But in another way, that's a bad sign. Put simply: Why can't the Tar Heel players try this hard all the time? What's missing? And how could a team that is trying to play fast only score 54 points - the lowest of the Roy Williams era?
"I thought we had the intensity the first 30 minutes that we needed and should have had the whole season," Williams said.
In his postgame news conference, Williams was asked about the team's 2-7 ACC mark.
"It makes no difference," Williams said, his eyes flashing, "2-7 or 70-2. We gotta frickin' practice. We gotta play. If they're going to start feeling sorry for themselves - and I don't think they will - it doesn't make any difference."
3. Duke (20-4, 8-2) looks like a team with good survival skills. And although a lot of people seem to think there's no chance any ACC team can reach the Final Four in 2010, the Blue Devils are the one squad that has a shot.
Duke survived 9-of-40 shooting in the first half Wednesday. Duke survived a troublesome knee injury to starter Lance Thomas, who doesn't score but does defend and rebound well inside.
While the Blue Devils often appear to be a pretty team with their trio of perimeter scorers, they looked like a gritty one Wednesday.
And showing that sort of fight, under those conditions, is a very positive sign for Duke as March looms.
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