Duke Now

On big stage, Jayson Tatum proves how much Duke can rely on him

Highlights from Duke's big win over North Carolina

Watch highlights of Duke's Grayson Allen and the rest of the Blue Devils as they take down the Tar Heels.
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Watch highlights of Duke's Grayson Allen and the rest of the Blue Devils as they take down the Tar Heels.

Jayson Tatum couldn’t make it to his locker before he was met by a storm of media after Thursday’s game.

The people behind the lights and cameras wanted to know how a freshman in his first Duke-UNC game could play so well.

How could he maintain his poise and impose his will down the stretch against a UNC team alone on top of the conference?

“Every time we get in the huddle, we talk. We look each other in the eye,” Tatum said through swallows of his post-game strawberry-banana smoothie. All of his 19 points came after the break, as the rookie helped deliver No. 18 Duke an 86-78 win over No. 8 UNC.

The 6-foot-9 wing went 0-for-3 in the first half but led with four assists before finishing with a game-high five.

Grabbing decisive defensive rebounds down the stretch, Tatum also led the game with nine boards, as Duke (19-5, 7-4 ACC) limited the country’s best rebounding team. Entering the game with 16.4 offensive rebounds a game, the Tar Heels (21-5, 9-3) were held to seven and were outrebounded, 31-30.

“That was big and important for us, rebounding, because they’re so big,” Tatum said. “It just took a lot of effort. Everybody pitched in tonight in rebounding.”

A fourth consecutive conference victory makes Duke’s early-season goals less cloudy, the ones it outlined when it was the No. 1 basketball team in the country before the season started. That was back in October, when Duke thought it’d be the team it is today.

Those goals once appeared endangered.

Duke suffered conference losses to Virginia Tech in the ACC opener, back-to-back road setbacks at Florida State and Louisville, and then an emotional home loss to N.C. State, when Tatum missed four layups late and went 1-of-2 from the foul line.

Coach was challenging me to attack the rim strong, and I got my opportunity and I fed off that

Duke freshman Jayson Tatum

Against Carolina, he iced two free throws to make it a two-possession game with 19 seconds left.

“Coach was challenging me to attack the rim strong, and I got my opportunity and I fed off that,” Tatum said.

The Tar Heels’ last lead was 71-70 with 6:50 to play. From then until the end of the game, Tatum grabbed four of his eight defensive rebounds, including one that led to a Grayson Allen dunk with about 3 minutes to play.

Allen went 7-of-12 from long range for a game-high 25 points, but he fouled out with 1:02 left. Veteran forward Amile Jefferson also played with foul trouble in the second half.

“It just really shows how dynamic our team is,” said Tatum, who drove for a one-handed tomahawk dunk over Kennedy Meeks in the second half. “Not gonna lie, ... I was nervous in the first half, but the second half, I got it all out of the way.”

Watch highlights of Duke's Grayson Allen and the rest of the Blue Devils as they take down the Tar Heels.

Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan

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