DURHAM, N.C. — No. 4 Duke pulled ahead of No. 14 North Carolina to stay in the final minute and won, 93-81. It didn’t have the thrilling finish some of the past meetings between these two rivals did, but it certainly had one thing this game hasn’t always had in recent years — a high, high level of play by both teams, particularly on the offensive end of the floor by its best players.
And ultimately, that’s a good thing for college basketball.
UNC saw its 12-game winning streak snapped and will be the No. 4 seed in next week’s ACC Tournament, while Duke (24-7, 13-5 ACC) secured the No. 3 seed. But as well as these two teams have shown they’re capable of playing — and as poorly, quite frankly, at times — there’s no limit to what either of them could do:
Even if he didn’t always get a lot of help, UNC sophomore point guard Marcus Paige was spectacular for the Tar Heels (23-8, 13-5 ACC), especially in the second half, finishing with 24 points and hitting extremely closely-guarded shots to keep his team in it. But this was about Duke’s main stars, who were finally — as Krzyzewski put it — "sensational" at the same time.
Duke freshman Jabari Parker has gotten all kinds of love for ACC Player of the Year nationally, and well-deserved. But closer observers of the conference have pointed not only to T.J. Warren of N.C. State as an equal (if not more viable) candidate, but they’ve also pointed to Parker’s own struggles in ACC play.
Well, if closing strong matters, Parker put an emphatic stamp on his All-ACC candidacy against North Carolina with a career-high 30 points on 10-of-17 shooting, setting a Duke freshman record for single-game scoring against North Carolina. He drove, either to draw fouls (he shot nine free throws) or finish at the rim, or pull up for a soft jumper. He attacked the glass, pulling down a game-high 11 rebounds, more than half of UNC’s total of 20. He hit ridiculous shots against sometimes very good defense.
"When he’s that aggressive, he can get any shot he wants to on the floor," Hood said. "It’s just up to him whether he scores or not."
Hood has been Duke’s most consistent player all season (Krzyzewski’s words), but even he’s been in a bit of a shooting slump. He had argubaly his worst game of the season at Wake Forest at the worst possible time. Meanwhile, the Wake Forest game was the moment Parker’s light began to come back on again.
"Rodney didn’t hold back tonight. Sometimes when he misses, he lets that get to him. He thinks it’s a mistake and it’s not," Krzyzewski said. "Tonight, he didn’t play like that. He was really good. Those two kids were very, very good tonight."
Hood added 24 of his own points against North Carolina on 8-of-13 shooting (3-of-7 from 3-point range).
"I just thought he had his best spirit to score tonight that he’s had all season because they’re really good. At times, he just wasn’t going to be denied," Krzyzewski said. "With Jabari, he fought through, he fought through things. It wasn’t just smooth. He had to make plays against big guys who are good players."
Frankly, when Parker is playing like that, it’s difficult to see a ceiling for the talented freshman. He’s too quick for bigger players to guard and too strong for smaller players to guard. He’s only scratching the surface of what he can do, but once he uncovers the whole package — man, will it be terrifying in the best possible way.
"He was aggressive and he was feeling it. He was in attack mode," Hood said of his teammate. "Shots went in. He was aggressive going to the basket. He was feeling it. We expect more, to be honest. Like (Krzyzewski) said, 30 is probably not enough. But we expect him to do that every single game from here on out."
Wait, what? Did Krzyzewski really tell Parker 30 isn’t enough?
"Yeah. In a way," Hood said, grinning. "But he didn’t say those exact words. Basically, that’s what he said."
The game in Cameron between these two teams often has a crazy feel to it — no pun intended. The students have often been camping out for weeks or even months just to get in, and their pent-up energy has to be released somewhere. It’s released in the form of electricity that crackles around the arena in pre-game, and then in the form of screaming and chanting and jumping and dancing during the game.
And celebrities are almost always on hand. Tonight for UNC-Duke, it was Jason Garrett, Tony Romo and Roger Goodell, all clad in Duke gear, cheering just like everyone else.
An atmosphere like this can often be too much. The emotion is overbearing, and the desire from the crowd to see their team make every single shot can feel suffocating. But it wasn’t for this game, and everyone was better for it.
College basketball this season has been much more offensive-oriented, but it hasn’t been as high-scoring in spite of more fouls being called. Offense — in the last few years, especially — has been OK-to-bad in most games. Not in Durham on Saturday, though. North Carolina lost in spite of shooting over 50 percent against Duke for the first time under Roy Williams. And the Tar Heels didn’t just shoot slightly above 50 percent — they shot nearly 60 percent. UNC was 141-0 under Williams prior to this game when hitting that mark.
That’s how good Duke was on offense.
The Blue Devils shot 50.9 percent for the game, 34.8 percent from 3-point range (60 percent in the second half) and 87.1 percent from the foul line.
It has to be a good sign for both teams that they were able to perform that way on the offensive end. UNC couldn’t generate any kind of offense during the first month or so of ACC play, and Duke hadn’t been able to find its touch shooting the ball. Both got something going in this game, and it’s not a bad time for that. Not to mention that it was pretty darned fun to watch.
It wasn’t just your garden variety fainting spell for Krzyzewski that made him miss the Wake Forest postgame on Wednesday night.
It was something that scared him.
"It wasn’t lightheadedness. It was different," Krzyzewski said.
He added that he got tests run on him the next day, saying that the doctors told him he had the brain and heart of a 20-year old. "I’d rather have the brain of a 30-year-old," he joked.
In other words, they couldn’t find anything wrong with him.
"I said, ‘Well something’s wrong.’ I probably have an 80-year-old something going on," Krzyzewski said. "I feel good. It’s just been an emotional two months for me. I think that’s it. I’ve got to manage that. I have to manage it better."
And he felt good enough to take a joke about his hair in stride, too, when a reporter asked him if he had the hair of a 30-year-old.
"I will tell you this. Everyone thinks — I do not color my hair. I do not," Krzyzewski said with a grin. "Now, I’m losing my hair, which a lot of people do. But I do not color my hair. I don’t. That’s a myth. My (Chicago) buddies would kill me if I (did)."