DURHAM — When UNC first committed fully to its smaller, four-guard lineup, it seemed like only a matter of time before an imposing frontcourt capitalized on the size mismatch.
But then N.C. State’s C.J. Leslie played one of the worst games of his collegiate career against the Tar Heels. Maryland’s Alex Len only had eight points a few games later. Seven games (and six straight wins) after the switch, and no one has dominated the Tar Heels on the glass and in the frontcourt.
Duke’s Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee, who both stand 6-foot-10, will try their hand at exploiting the Tar Heels’ small lineup Saturday in Chapel Hill.
“You have to take advantage of what they’re giving you in the post,” Kelly said. “You have to get good position in the post and finish around the basket, get on the offensive boards and just play. I’ll be playing my game.”
Kelly, who missed 13 games with a foot injury and returned March 2 against Miami, can play with his back to the basket, as he demonstrated against Miami’s Julian Gamble several times. His specialty, of course, is his 3-point shooting, and he’ll have a five-inch height advantage over Hairston.
Hairston, who has averaged 17.6 points per game since starting at the power forward position, has more than held his own.
“He has taken advantage of his matchup, and that matchup hasn’t taken advantage of him,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Hairston. “A bigger player hasn’t hurt him on his defensive end of the court.”
Kelly sat on the sidelines during the Blue Devils’ Feb. 13, 73-68 win over the new-look Tar Heels. Plumlee, though, struggled mightily in the first half, and was benched during the second when McAdoo took advantage of his passive defensive play.
None of the Blue Devils played particularly well early, as Duke nearly had as many turnovers (11) as field goals (12).
Plumlee finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds, including four late-game free throws. North Carolina finished with 20 offensive rebounds (to Duke’s 12), which resulted in 21 second-chance points. The Tar Heels, though, are better now. And Plumlee will need to be, too.
“We definitely want to get them the ball inside, Ryan and Mason,” Quinn Cook said. “Try to work it inside, get some fouls on those guys.”
Plumlee knows that he’ll have a favorable matchup. And he says he’s ready.
“I’ll definitely be hungry,” he said.
The Blue Devils certainly hope so.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley