After ragged start against UNC, Duke goes confident

calexander@newsobserver.comFebruary 14, 2013 

— It took longer than many probably expected. Certainly Duke's Blue Devils.

But there was a sense it was coming. For Duke, it almost always does.

The three-pointers will begin to fall.

So it went Wednesday as the second-ranked Blue Devils fought past North Carolina 73-68 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in an intense game with a lot of ragged edges.

For a half, the Devils were quiet from behind the arc. The team that leads the ACC in 3-point percentage and 3s per game knocked in one three-pointer in the period -- by junior guard Tyler Thornton -- as the Tar Heels took a 33-29 lead.

Then came the second half. Then Duke began to hit.

"It gives you confidence when you see one of your teammates making them," Duke senior Seth Curry said. "It's contagious."

Thornton got the Devils started in the second half with his second 3. Then Curry hit one. Then freshman Rasheed Sulaimon.

When Thornton hit his third 3 of the game, from the right corner with 12 minutes, 23 seconds left in the game, Duke had a 50-45 lead.

"I think the hero of the game for us was Thornton," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who also praised Thornton's defense and hustle. "He would not let us lose."

Free-throw shooting also was a factor. The Devils were 17 of 20 at the line -- 13 of 14 in the second half -- while the Tar Heels missed 10 of their 23 foul shots in the game.

"That was huge for us," Curry said. "You always want to win that free-throw battle."

The Devils (22-2, 9-2 ACC) had a confident look in pregame, high-fiving the Crazies as they left the locker room. But once the game began, the Devils appeared overanxious, unable to get any kind of offensive rhythm as the Tar Heels were the more poised team.

"We were a little too much excited and playing too fast," Curry said. "We turned the ball over, missed some assignments defensively, weren't talking as well, and that allowed them to get off to a good start."

Steadily, the Heels built the lead, using a smaller lineup and four-guard set to cause matchup problems.

"We got knocked back with their quickness," Krzyzewski said.

At halftime, all of Duke's numbers looked poor: 38.7 percent shooting from the field, 12 field goals and 11 turnovers, just three assists. The Heels, who led by as many as 10 in the half, had 12 points off turnovers and eight second-chance points in the period.

"We were trying to go back and forth with those guys, which is not our game," Thornton said. "We didn't take care of the ball and take advantage of our opportunities."

The second half began with another downer for Duke -- a quick third personal on center Mason Plumlee. And when James Michael McAdoo down the baseline for a reverse slam, UNC had a 38-31 lead.

That's about when the Duke 3's finally began to fall -- and Cameron explode with noise.

Thornton's second 3 of the game pulled the Devils within 38-35. When Curry hit from the left wing, Duke had its first lead of the game 42-41. The Devils were on their way.

"We just focused on getting good shots," Curry said. "We know we have good shooters and will make them eventually."

The 3's, that is. They eventually will fall.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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