If the first minute of the game meant anything, it was going to be a long night for Duke.
Duke freshman sensation Zion Williamson is usually seen on Sportscenter jumping out of his shoes to make an incredibly athletic dunk that warrants oohs and ahhs from everyone lucky enough to see it live. On Wednesday night though, the future NBA lottery pick was seen falling out of his Nike shoes, literally. Williamson lasted just over 30 seconds in the game as he was taken to the locker room after slipping and doing a full split, tearing through his shoe, and injuring his knee making a hard cut.
Although fans like former President Barack Obama and actor Spike Lee were disappointed that Zion left Cameron Indoor Stadium so early, they were still treated to a fantastic display of basketball.
And so was Duke.
It seemed like the Blue Devils were just sitting in the crowd watching North Carolina forward Luke Maye stand alone in the paint for an easy lay in. The top ranked team in the country looked like the a shell of themselves when trying to stop North Carolina guard Cam Johnson from getting open looks anywhere on the floor. Duke looked lost without Williamson, but if the freshman was there, it wouldn’t have mattered.
UNC played almost the perfect game that needs to be played to beat Duke.
First, they got the ball in the paint with ease. Yes, Williamson would have been able to help with this but the reality of it is he could only guard one of Maye or Johnson, both who torched whoever was on them the entire night. The Tar Heels scored 62 points in the paint, coming close to Dukes final score of 72 with just their shots in the shaded area. Their transition game was strong, as they scored on the fast break without much resistance.
It’s not just points in the paint that will beat Duke though. The Tar Heels finished the job in the paint by winning the rebound battle 46-41. Maye was a force on both ends of the glass, grabbing 15 rebounds and forward Garrison Brooks brought down eight of his own. Second chance buckets were a big reason that UNC was able to open up an early lead they never gave up.
The Tar Heels took full advantage of Williamson being out on the defensive end as well. In order to beat Duke, defenses have to stop the drive and force the Blue Devils into becoming a three point shooting team. If they start knocking them down, that’s trouble, but the Tar Heels were able to close out on RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish, and force the freshman into bad, often forced looks. The duo was a combined 7-23 from deep and Duke as a whole shot just 20.5% from beyond the arch.
The only part of the game that the Tar Heels struggled with was shooting the long ball themselves. North Carolina shot 2-20 from deep and point guard and knock down shooter Coby White was pretty much taken out of the game. White only contributed nine points and three rebounds in his 28 minutes, shooting 1-6 from beyond the arch. It’s a scary thought to think about how many points the Tar Heels could have put up if their threes were falling like they usually do.
Film of this game will be shown to any team that matches up against Duke in March. It’s not easy to go into Cameron Indoor Stadium and make everyone silent but North Carolina did just that on Wednesday night. When these two teams match up in Chapel Hill again in two weeks, expect less of a blowout from the UNC side but if the Tar Heels continue to follow their blueprint for beating the Blue Devils, they could make it a clean sweep of their hated rivals on the season.