Duke vs. North Carolina score, takeaways: Tar Heels top rival Blue Devils, make case for NCAA Tournament bid

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North Carolina closed the regular season with a statement victory on Saturday as the Tar Heels thrashed Duke 91-73 to complete a sweep of their archrival in a critical moment for both teams. In a storied series that frequently produces thrillers, this game was an outlier as UNC opened up a 20-point lead midway through the first half and never let Duke get within single digits for the rest of the game.

The win should help solidify UNC's at-large candidacy for the NCAA Tournament after the Tar Heels (16-9, 10-6 ACC) entered the day as a projected No. 11 seed in Jerry Palm's Bracketology. For Duke (11-11, 9-9), the loss is a crushing blow to its hopes of making the Big Dance. The Blue Devils entered as a bubble team on the outside of the projected field, according to Palm, and will likely need a solid run in next week's ACC Tournament to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995.

UNC used a predictable formula to open up its early lead as the Tar Heels pounded the ball inside while opening up an 11-2 lead against Duke's lean front line. In the end, UNC got some timely 3-pointers and hit 21-of-26 free throws. Armando Bacot, Kerwin Walton and Caleb Love each scored 18 to lead the Tar Heels.

Duke's Matthew Hurt, the ACC's leading scorer, did not get on the board until the 1:20 mark of the first half. He ultimately finished with 14 points, but by the time he got going, the Blue Devils were out of it. A silver lining from the otherwise dreary affair for the Blue Devils was another solid outing from freshman center Mark Williams, who led Duke with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting.

ACC Tournament implications

UNC's win secured it the No. 6 seed in the ACC Tournament, meaning that it will play the winner of Tuesday's first round game between No. 11 Notre Dame and No. 14 Wake Forest. The Tar Heels would advance to play No. 3 Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals on Thursday if they win their first game.

The loss is especially bad news for Duke's placement in the bracket, as it dropped the Blue Devils to the No. 10 seed, which will force them to play in Tuesday's first round against No. 15 seed Boston College. Duke will have to win five games in five days to win the ACC Tournament. With a win over UNC, Duke would have secured the No. 9 seed and played its first game against No. 8 seed Syracuse in Wednesday's second round instead.

UNC's guards rise to the occasion

Attention is lavished on UNC's frontcourt, and for good reason. Most teams would love to have just one post player with the size and skill of the four whom the Tar Heels are spoiled with. But it was guard play that helped North Carolina extend its early lead and maintain the advantage, and it is guard play that will likely decide how far this team goes.

With his 18-point, seven-assist outing, Love again turned in a gem against the Blue Devils after scoring a season-high 25 in an earlier 91-87 win over Duke. Walton's 18-point outburst 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range was his second-highest scoring output of the season. Between Love, Walton and RJ Davis, the Tar Heels have three freshmen guards who have shown flashes of potential greatness this season. If at least two of them play well -- like they did Saturday -- it makes this team dangerous.

Still better without Jalen Johnson?

After five-star forward Jalen Johnson left the Duke program after playing just eight minutes in a win over NC State on Feb. 13, it seemed the Blue Devils might actually be better off without him. That narrative, which was pushed into the spotlight by Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, appeared accurate as Duke won its first three games without him. But after losing three straight to end the regular season, the topic might be worth revisiting.

Clearly, Johnson never gelled with this team but it's clear the Blue Devils are lacking depth, and it can take time for teams loaded with talented freshmen to find a rhythm. Williams is a great example, as the former five-star prospect is averaging 16 points over Duke's last four games following a quiet start. It's worth wondering if both sides might have been better off trying to find a resolution. Johnson wouldn't be dealing with questions about his level of commitment ahead of the NBA Draft -- or whatever is next for him -- and a struggling Duke team would still have another talented piece to use as needed.


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UNC -3, o150.5
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UNC -3, O/U 150.5

Season Leaders

points
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M. Hurt 18.3 PTS, 1.4 AST, 6.2 REB
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M. Hurt 18.3 PTS, 1.4 AST, 6.2 REB
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A. Bacot 12.3 PTS, 0.8 AST, 7.8 REB
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A. Bacot 12.3 PTS, 0.8 AST, 7.8 REB
assists
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J. Goldwire 5.8 PTS, 4.0 AST, 2.9 REB
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J. Goldwire 5.8 PTS, 4.0 AST, 2.9 REB
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C. Love 10.5 PTS, 3.6 AST, 2.6 REB
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C. Love 10.5 PTS, 3.6 AST, 2.6 REB
rebounds
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M. Hurt 18.3 PTS, 1.4 AST, 6.2 REB
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M. Hurt 18.3 PTS, 1.4 AST, 6.2 REB
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A. Bacot 12.3 PTS, 0.8 AST, 7.8 REB
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A. Bacot 12.3 PTS, 0.8 AST, 7.8 REB
Live updates
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@DukeMBB via Twitter
March 7, 2021, 1:27 AM

Duke is now 4-of-25 from 3-point range. Major yikes.

March 7, 2021, 1:06 AM
March 7, 2021, 1:06 AM

77-59 UNC at the u4 timeout. The Tar Heels opened up a 20-point lead midway through the first half and has led by double-digits ever since.

March 7, 2021, 1:00 AM

That's been the story for Davis this season, though. Big contributions in some games and nothing in others. If the Tar Heels can get consistency from Love, Walton and Davis, this team has second weekend potential.

March 7, 2021, 12:55 AM

Good to see RJ Davis getting involved for UNC. He's been quiet, but some contributions from him would be a little icing on the cake here.

March 7, 2021, 12:54 AM
@UNC_Basketball via Twitter
March 7, 2021, 12:49 AM

The basketball has not been particularly good here in the last few minutes. Get the sense that a lot of emotion has been expended on both sides. One stat that sticks out with UNC up 70-52 at the u8 timeout is assists: Tar Heels have 19 of them. The ball movement has been solid. Not going to say this team has figured it out, because they've been all over the map recently. But the flashes of greatness are there in spurts.

March 7, 2021, 12:47 AM

Well, this is really happening. Duke is going to be playing on Tuesday in the ACC Tournament. A Garrison Brooks just extended UNC's lead to 66-42. Are we still sure the Blue Devils are better without Jalen Johnson?

March 7, 2021, 12:41 AM

Looks rather humorous to see Duke leading 50-6 in bench points, but remember UNC started three seniors who don't usually start. That's the explanation.

March 7, 2021, 12:38 AM
@DukeMBB via Twitter
March 7, 2021, 12:33 AM

56-40 UNC at the u12 timeout. Just seems like Duke isn't going to have the juice to dig out of the monstrous hole fell into early.

March 7, 2021, 12:32 AM

Walker Kessler with another bucket for UNC. That guy is going to be a problem next year.

March 7, 2021, 12:28 AM

It was all about the bigs early, but Love and Walton are quietly showing UNC's guards are good, too. Both in double figures, and the Heels lead 51-35 at the u16 timeout.

March 7, 2021, 12:22 AM

Feels like UNC would benefit from being more intentional about getting the ball inside. Duke has sped the pace up a bit. Still a 14-point lead for the Heels.

March 7, 2021, 12:19 AM

Duke in a zone defensively and gets a nice and-1 from Mark Williams. Signs of life, but this is quite a hill to climb.

March 7, 2021, 12:16 AM

Something nice from that first half: there were just 9 total fouls called! If there's a silver lining for Duke, it's that Mark Williams and Matthew Hurt didn't end up with multiple fouls after they each picked one up early.

March 7, 2021, 12:12 AM

Matthew Hurt finally got going a bit to end the half with 5 points in the final 1:20. But, boy, that was a rough half in a big moment for the Blue Devils. 42-26 UNC at the break. Tar Heels shot 55.2% in the half.

March 6, 2021, 11:58 PM

So it's pretty wild that UNC has committed just two fouls in the first half.

March 6, 2021, 11:51 PM

But the Tar Heels get a Kerwin Walton 3 and nice turnaround from Kessler and extend the lead back to 33-16 at the u4 timeout. Matthew Hurt still scoreless for Duke.

March 6, 2021, 11:48 PM
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