North Carolina-Duke Preview
With North Carolina focused on clinching its first regular-season ACC title in four years, Marcus Paige admits it would be nice to celebrate at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The eighth-ranked Tar Heels have a heartbreaking home defeat to No. 17 Duke last month still fresh in their minds as they try to snap a four-game slide in the series Saturday night.
Coach Roy Williams said the loss was "tough to swallow" on Feb. 17 when North Carolina (24-6, 13-4) had an eight-point advantage with 6:49 remaining before the Blue Devils rallied to go ahead with 1:09 left and came up with a couple of late stops in a 74-73 win at Chapel Hill.
"We know there's nothing we can do about the past," Paige said, "but we can change a lot about how we play (Saturday)."
Paige, who had seven points on 2-of-10 shooting in the first meeting, said the Tar Heels didn't have time to hang their heads as they won three of the next four games. A victory in Durham will give them at least a share of their first ACC title since 2011-12 and the conference tournament's top seed, while both of those will still happen with a loss should Miami and Virginia fall as well.
The last time North Carolina won at Cameron was also the last time they won a conference title.
"If you told us we had one game to be ACC champs, then obviously that would be the biggest game for us in our careers since we haven't won anything like that," Paige said. "So the fact that it is in Cameron and we haven't won there, just elevates that even further."
The senior point guard looks to regroup after he had just six points on 2-of-10 shooting and eight assists in Monday's 75-70 win over Syracuse in the home finale. Brice Johnson led the way with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and he's averaged 18.7 and 11.5 in his last six games.
Johnson also has been a force against the Tar Heels' biggest rival, averaging 19.8 points and 11.8 rebounds in the last four meetings. He had a big game with 29 and 19 in February, when North Carolina outrebounded Duke 46-34 but went 1 for 13 from 3-point range.
Johnson and Kennedy Meeks finished with 18 points apiece but Paige had five on 2-of-11 shooting in a 92-90 overtime defeat in the most recent meeting in Durham on Feb. 18, 2015.
"If we happen to win, I'm not going to go around the locker room screaming and chanting that we beat Duke," Williams said. "They're a great program, great team and we have battles every year with them, but we have a chance to win a conference championship."
The Blue Devils (22-8, 11-6) had dropped two of three after beating the Tar Heels before Tuesday's 79-71 home win over Wake Forest. Grayson Allen had 30 points while Brandon Ingram added 15 points and 11 rebounds and Marshall Plumlee had 13 and 17.
Allen, second in the conference with 21.2 points per game, scored 23 against the Tar Heels. Ingram, the ACC Freshman of the Year favorite, also came through with 20 and 10 boards.
''It's definitely a big game,'' said Ingram, who chose Duke over North Carolina, ''and there's definitely motivation, but I'm with my team now."
The Blue Devils, seeking their sixth straight home win, hope to regain their touch after shooting a combined 36.9 percent in their last two games. The Tar Heels, though, rank third in the ACC in defensive field-goal percentage (41.4) and held Duke to 41.5 percent in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina has won its last four at Cameron when entering as a top-10 team.