At times, it looked like North Carolina was trying to play volleyball.
The Tar Heels would throw up a shot, and, 65 percent of the time, it would miss. But more than half the time, UNC would grab the rebound. Sometimes the Tar Heels would grab two or three on the same possession. And on one possession midway through the second half of the Tar Heels’ 76-72 victory at Duke, they grabbed six – six! – offensive rebounds on the same possession.
“When they’re playing volleyball at the rim, we’re not getting rebounds,” Grayson Allen said. “They were getting three or four shots a possession just because we couldn’t rebound, and you’re not going to win a ballgame like that.”
Duke knew coming into the game that it was at a disadvantage when it came to competing with UNC for rebounds.
But, still, the Blue Devils weren’t anticipating on getting killed quite the way they did on the glass at both ends of the floor.
Of the 45 available rebounds at Duke’s offensive end of the floor, UNC grabbed 82.2 percent of them (37 defensive rebounds to eight offensive rebounds for the Blue Devils). And on Duke’s defensive end of the floor, UNC grabbed 27 of 48 available boards (56.3 percent).
“I knew that they would get their fair share,” Matt Jones said on rebounding. “I didn’t think they would beat us by the margin that they beat us. That, in itself, is surprising.
“They killed us on the glass.”
The Tar Heels are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, collecting an average of 40.1 percent of their misses, which ranks fourth nationally. Still, the Blue Devils held them nowhere close to that average.
Duke’s job on the boards was made much more difficult with Brandon Ingram in foul trouble. Ingram only played nine first-half minutes and had four fouls for the final 10 minutes of the game.
“His length – he can get after it and block some shots,” Grayson Allen said of Ingram. “He can grab some rebounds above everyone else’s arms. And so, we missed that.”
Ingram’s foul trouble also made Krzyzewski switch Duke into a 2-3 zone defense. The Blue Devils had played man-to-man to start the game, but when Ingram went out with two fouls and the Tar Heels up 20-9, Duke went to the zone. And after the first possession of the second half resulted in Ingram’s third foul, Duke went zone the rest of the way. That does pull more guards farther from the rim.
Still, Allen and Jones couldn’t stomach getting beaten on the boards as badly as Duke did.
“There was just such a huge margin on the boards that we have to come up with some of those,” Allen said. “Loose ball rebounds, guards need to box out the big guys. We can’t let them make plays above the rim. We have to clear our space and go get the ball. You have to give credit to them for the rebounding team that they are, but for there to be that big of a margin, that’s also on us.”
Rebounding wasn’t the only reason Duke didn’t win. Shooting under 40 percent from the field for the third straight game wasn’t ideal. Neither was trying to play offensively without Ingram, whose presence draws attention and better spaces the floor for driving lanes. Only getting to the foul line 15 times (and making nine) isn’t a recipe for success for this 3-and-free-throw team.
“We have enough to win. It has shown,” Krzyzewski said. “But we didn’t have enough to win tonight.”
Still, for all the offensive shortcomings, it was the beating on the boards that had Allen smarting after the game.
“I think we can play with any team in the country when we fight for 40 minutes,” Allen said. “But if the team that showed up tonight shows up, then we’re going to get killed in the paint, killed on the boards each and every night. That’s not a team that’s going to win games.”