Sunday, March 6, 2011

North Carolina Avenges Loss to Duke 81-67, Wins Regular Season Title

North Carolina was a pretty good and improving basketball team unlikely to play deep into March with a resume punctuated by November losses to Minnesota, Vanderbilt and Illinois, and an ugly 20-point loss in January to lowly Georgia Tech.  Then Larry Drew II walked off and Kendal Marshall walked on, and the Tar Heels have turned into an entirely different – and much better – basketball team.

Last night, Marshall pushed his record to 12-1 since being inserted into the starting lineup with a double-double (15 points/11 assists, 2 turnovers in 36 minutes) in a win over arch rival Duke that gave North Carolina what earlier in the season had seemed an improbable regular season ACC title.

Plumlee, Knox, Singler and Henson
Harrison Barnes scored 18 points for the Tar Heels (24-6, 14-2), who earned the top seed in next week’s league tournament in Greensboro.  Duke (27-4, 13-3) shot poorly (36%. 22% from behind the arc) and scored just one basket in the final 11 minutes.

The win eased more of the lingering pain from last year’s 17-loss season, Williams’ worst as a head coach. By beating the Blue Devils, North Carolina became the first team in league history to win the ACC regular-season title outright a year after finishing below .500 in league play.

When it was over, fans and students rushed the court to celebrate a surprisingly easy victory against the reigning national champions.  But Ol’ Roy cleared the floor to allow his players to celebrate with his own tradition—clipping down the nets after clinching a league title at home.

 This game certainly had a postseason vibe to it, from the nationally televised broadcast on CBS—the first time the network had aired a regular-season game in prime time—to the winner-take-all setting in the rivalry between elite programs that had won the past two NCAA titles and nine overall.

Henson and Smith
In many ways, it was a replay of the first meeting for Duke. Nolan Smith and Seth Curry again completely carried the offense while Kyle Singler (3 for 14 and missed all five 3-pointers) struggled with just eight points while matched up most of the night against Barnes.  The shift was that this time it was North Carolina turning up the defensive pressure in the second half.

Smith had 30 points and Curry had 20, but the Blue Devils shot just 36 percent and went 6 for 27 from 3-point range—with all the made threes coming from Curry.  The rest of the Blue Devils contributed little offensively.

North Carolina shot 52% and out-rebounded Duke 50-42.  It was clear that the Blue Devils did not match up well inside. 

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