Coming out of the last media timeout, Duke was down just one point. There was 3 minutes, 52 seconds left on the clock, and the Blue Devils were feeling confident.
“We came out of the huddle and said we can do this, we just need to finish strong,” Grayson Allen said. “And that’s what we did.”
Playing with just four scholarship guards – all of whom played all 20 minutes in the second half – and a center who had four fouls for the final 11 minutes, No. 20 Duke shocked No. 5 North Carolina 74-73 Wednesday night at the Smith Center. In the end, Allen threw the ball into the air, in the direction of the Tar Heels’ championship banners that signified much better moments in program history, and ran and hugged coach Mike Krzyzewski. He got another bearhug from Matt Jones, who injured his left ankle with about eight minutes left in the first half.
It felt like Duke stole one – to those who were watching from anywhere other than the Duke sideline.
“No, I wouldn’t say that at all,” Allen said with a smile. “We were in a fight, and we played good basketball down the stretch. And that’s what it’s all about.”
That was the difference, as UNC had Duke on the ropes – the Blue Devils trailed by seven points four times and eight points once during the second half – but the Tar Heels made curious decision after curious decision.
“There were times in the second half where they could have really put us away,” Allen said.
Duke didn’t overthink its strategy. The Blue Devils just spread the floor and put the ball in the hands of their best playmakers, Allen and Brandon Ingram.
Freshman guard Derryck Thornton summed up Duke’s second-half offensive philosophy nicely.
“Being aggressive and make plays,” he said.
“That’s coach’s main thing, just be aggressive and make plays. He trusts all of our skillsets, and Grayson and Brandon did a great job.”
Ingram scored 13 points in the second half after a rough start in the first. After making just two of his 10 attempts from the field in the first 20 minutes, Ingram went 5-for-11 in the second. He finished with 20 points, and Allen had a game-high 23, including an 8-for-10 mark from the free-throw line.
“For a long stretch there, just hand the ball off to Brandon and let him work just because he’s a special, special player, and he hit some really big and tough shots for us,” Allen said of Duke’s mindset. “Coach just really trusted us to make plays, just space it out, and play off of instinct on offense.”
And keeping it simple – with a healthy dose of confidence – was enough.