UNC steamrolls Duke 88-70 to win ACC regular season title

jdaly@newsobserver.comMarch 3, 2012 

— Ever since it beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Feb. 8, Duke has played Austin Rivers’ dramatic game-winning shot on its video board before each home game as a way of inciting the crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

From Roy Williams to Kendall Marshall, many of the Tar Heels’ coaches and players took a long look at the highlight when it was shown Saturday.

As it turns out, Marshall isn't one to stew silently.

“When they showed the big-time shot Austin hit, I just brought my team together and told them I thought it was extremely disrespectful,” Marshall said.

UNC spent the next 40 minutes ensuring Duke wouldn’t have to repeat its heroics. With Marshall leading the way with a commanding 20-point, 10-assist performance, the Tar Heels demolished Duke 88-70 to clinch the ACC regular season championship.

It is the 29th regular season conference title for the No. 6 Tar Heels (27-4, 14-2), who will open next weekend’s ACC Tournament as the top seed. No. 4 Duke (26-5, 13-3) will be the No. 2 seed.

The 18-point margin of victory was also UNC’s largest at Cameron since it won 91-71 in 1989.

“Needless to say, we’re ecstatic,” Williams said. “A great basketball game.”

Tyler Zeller (19 points, 10 rebounds) and John Henson (13 points, 10 rebounds) also had impressive games for the Tar Heels. UNC outrebounded Duke 45-28.

After a game in which the Blue Devils missed 15 straight shots in the first half and trailed by 24 at halftime, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski alternated between lamenting his team’s performance and praising UNC’s effort.

“We got beat by a better team tonight,” Krzyzewski said. “I wish we would’ve played better in that first half. We were just so bad in the first half.

“But they make you look bad. They were very good. I think that anything that I say (like), ‘We didn’t play as well,’ might take away from the way they played. They were terrific tonight. I can’t say enough about them.”

Duke fed the ball to senior Miles Plumlee for scores on its opening two possessions, matching the Tar Heels’ first two baskets. It was the only time on the night the Blue Devils could say they were on equal footing with UNC.

The Tar Heels scored on their first eight possessions while Duke missed its next 15 shots from the field. Some of that was Duke missing shots it would normally make, but UNC also played aggressively on the perimeter, daring the Blue Devils to drive to the basket.

Duke couldn’t get those shots to fall, and the Tar Heels led 22-5 by the time the game was 8 minutes old.

After Marshall hit a pull-up jumper right before halftime, UNC was up 48-24. At that point, Rivers and Seth Curry – Duke’s two most prolific perimeter scorers – had combined to make only four of 15 shots as the Blue Devils shot 26.5 percent before halftime.

“We were just so amped up for the game, and then we go out there and play like that and get demoralized,” Curry said. “That’s kind of how we’ve been playing all year in the first half here.”

Duke has had miserable first half efforts at Cameron this season before rallying in the second half. The most notable was against N.C. State, when the Blue Devils came back from 20 points down for the win.

But spotting the Wolfpack a 20-point lead isn't the same as allowing UNC to build a 26-point edge.

There were times in the second half, nonetheless, when Duke seemed like it might make a game of it.

After the Tar Heels opened up their biggest lead – 50-24 with 19:37 remaining – Duke showed its first signs of life, scoring 10 straight points. Curry and Tyler Thornton both had 3-pointers in that stretch, with Thornton’s coming as the shot clock expired to pull the Blue Devils back within 16.

Curry then trimmed the UNC lead to 71-57 with a little less than 8 minutes remaining with a 3-pointer from the corner, putting the finishing touches on a 7-0 Duke run.

But the Blue Devils last, best chance for a comeback evaporated with a little more than 5 minutes remaining. With the Tar Heels’ advantage down to 75-64, Curry missed a 3-pointer that may have changed the complexion of the evening.

Instead, Rivers missed the front end of a one-on-one on the Blue Devils’ next possession before Marshall hit a jumper from 18 feet at the end of the shot clock. UNC wasn’t challenged the rest of the way as it erased any lingering frustration from the Blue Devils’ win in Chapel Hill.

"The way we came out at Florida State for revenge, (UNC) came out at us," Rivers said. "I think they just wanted it."

See video highlights from the game

Daly: 919-829-4954

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