DURHAM — The anticipation for Duke-North Carolina is not just for the fans. Players feel it, too, Mason Plumlee said, and the anxious excitement can cause a player to tire quicker.
Youve got to get that second wind, he said.
Duke found its second wind during the final half, finding its 3-point shot at the right time to pull out a 73-68 win against North Carolina. The No 2 Blue Devils (22-2, 9-2 ACC) never led by double digits as the Tar Heels never lost their urgency.
Im not into moral victories, North Carolina coach Roy Williams said, but I am pleased with the effort they gave.
It was an effort play that seemed to spark a 15-5 Blue Devils run that gave them the lead for good.
Quinn Cook, who had kept the Blue Devils close during the opening half with his 10 points, poked a ball free from Reggie Bullock, and Bullock was whistled for a foul that sent Cook to the floor. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski ran onto the floor, and Cook popped up, waving his arms, pumping up the crowd.
Duke trailed 38-31 at the time, and, to make up the deficit, Krzyzewski did something the Blue Devils hadnt even practiced.
He put reserve point guard Tyler Thornton all 6-foot-1 of him at the power forward position.
The odd lineup combination, which featured just one player taller than 6-5 Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, Seth Curry, Thornton and Josh Hairston produced that game-changing run.
Thornton hit a 3, his second of the game, on the ensuing possession, and a few possessions later, a Curry 3, his first make from behind the arc on the day, and Duke held its first lead 42-41 with just over 14 minutes remaining.
Free throws from P.J. Hairston temporarily put North Carolina (16-8, 6-5) back on top, but a Cook layup and back-to-back 3s from Sulaimon and Thornton gave Duke a 50-45 lead.
And, thanks to a 13-for-14 performance from the free-throw line from Duke, North Carolina never could close the gap to closer than four.
We needed them to miss a couple, to say the least, Williams said.
Four of those late free throws came from Plumlee, who struggled to take advantage of what was seen as a mismatch with the Tar Heels post players. He was guarded most often by James Michael McAdoo, as Williams opted to start P.J. Hairston at power forward. Before the second half was less than a minute old, Plumlee had three fouls and McAdoo took advantage, going at Plumlee and forcing him to either foul or give up a basket. Krzyzewski then opted to take out Plumlee and instead run with his smaller lineup. Its the same lineup that had extended the lead at Florida State, another time Plumlee was in foul trouble, Cook said.
Wednesday night, it had the same effect.
Plumlee and Cook both led Duke with 18 points apiece. P.J. Hairston had 23 for North Carolina, and Bullock and Dexter Strickland also were in double figures with 15 and 14, respectively, for the Tar Heels.
Duke couldnt find any rhythm during the first half, turning the ball over 11 times and making just 12 shots from the field. It was North Carolina that came out strong, and the Tar Heels led 33-29 at the break.
North Carolina capitalized on three early Duke turnovers, turning them into seven points. The Tar Heels took advantage of defensive lapses and mismatches, whether it was McAdoo going in free for a dunk or Marcus Paige driving to the basket on Alex Murphy. And, unlike Duke, the Tar Heels connected from deep, thanks to a 3-for-3 performance from Bullock. The final one gave North Carolina a 28-18 lead, forcing Krzyzewski to call a timeout.
We came out with fire, P.J. Hairston said of the Tar Heels. We came out wanting to win. We came out with intensity. And we came out playing hard, and playing together. We jumped on them quick, before they could jump on us, and that was the goal. Thats what we wanted to do.
While North Carolina had fire early, it was the Blue Devils who found their second wind late.