DURHAM, N.C. -- If Duke freshman Jabari Parker and sophomore Rodney Hood never play another game in Cameron Indoor Stadium for the Blue Devils, they gave a performance worthy of a senior night send-off against North Carolina.
Parker scored a career-high 30 points and Hood added 24 -- which marked the first game in ACC play that both players surpassed 20 points -- as Duke beat the rival Tar Heels 93-81. Parker's 30 points were the second-most by a freshman in a Duke-North Carolina game, falling one short of Walter Davis' 31 for North Carolina in 1974.
Neither player has revealed their intentions regarding whether or not they’ll turn pro at the end of the season, but both showed why they’d be coveted by NBA teams as soon as they are ready to declare.
Parker and Hood were so dominant even teammate Rasheed Sulaimon confessed to being transfixed by the way they played.
“It’s crazy kind of watching that,” Sulaimon said. “You’re in the game, but at some point you’re kind of spectating as well when two great players like that just take over the game.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who donned a Duke pullover, and Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and quarterback Tony Romo were among the celebrities in the crowd, but it was quite clear who the stars were.
It’s long past the time when Hood can walk around town in anonymity. But after his performance in avenging the loss to the Heels, he can add a Cheshire grin.
“I got tired of walking through Durham with people screaming 'Carolina' at me when I walk through Walmart and stuff like that,” Hood said. “It was a big-time win, I’m just happy to keep the streak going.”
In the Blue Devils’ loss to Wake Forest, they got away from going to Parker and Hood in the game’s deciding minutes. Saturday, Duke determined its offense had to go through Parker and Hood to be effective.
“The Wake Forest game gave us a sense of urgency after losing,” Parker said. “We can’t do the same things that we’ve been doing so we had to change, and I think today we have. That’s all that matters is consistency from this point.”
Hood’s three-point play early in the second half sparked an 11-3 spurt that gave Duke all the separation it would need, as the Heels never got closer than eight points after that.
Parker drilled his only 3-pointer in the second half and kissed the fingers on his shooting hand as he ran back down the floor. The 19-point lead effectively helped the Blue Devils kiss North Carolina’s 12-game win streak goodbye.
“I just got lost in the game, they want to share my energy and emotion -- Coach is really big on that -- but not celebrating too much,” Parker said. “I kind of lost myself in the moment. That’s not exceptional: I just got to get my butt back on defense.”
But Parker was exceptional. Carolina tried just about everything it could to slow him down. James Michael McAdoo, who was the primary defender against Parker in their earlier meeting, was in foul trouble throughout.
It probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Five different Tar Heels found themselves trying to defend Parker at some point, from 6-foot-9 forward Brice Johnson, whose reach was supposed to give Parker trouble, to 6-foot-5 forward J.P. Tokoto, whose quickness was supposed to keep Parker from getting in the lane.
Parker got the shots he wanted. During a sequence in the first half, Parker drove baseline past Leslie McDonald, rose over Johnson and made a floater just as Kennedy Meeks was swatting to try and block his shot.
“He was feeling it, he was in attack mode,” Hood said. “We expect more, to be honest. Like Coach said 30 is probably not enough.”
Hood was referring to points, but he easily could have referred to shots. Parker and Hood combined for 30 attempts, with no other Duke player taking more than eight shots. If nothing else, Saturday’s win proved that is the formula for the Blue Devils’ offense.
Parker and Hood need to be the ones leading the way.
“They are a duo that not many people, or nobody else, has,” Duke senior guard Tyler Thornton said.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams would agree. He used zone in the Heels’ win to slow the Blue Devils’ offense down. But Duke, which entered the game shooting 27 percent from 3-point range in its past four games, busted the zone from deep.
Parker and Hood combined for five of the team’s eight 3-pointers, including three of Duke's six in the second half. Whether inside or out, the pair was a problem for the Heels.
“Between Jabari and Rodney we really had trouble trying to figure out a way to try and stop them,” Williams said. “And we still didn’t figure it out.”
Duke even eliminated the one big advantage the Heels were supposed to have. Carolina got outrebounded 34-20, which marked its lowest rebound total since the 1987 ACC tournament championship against N.C. State.
Parker, who had a game-high 11 rebounds, contributed to the Heels' misery in that area, too. With Carolina trailing by 11 with two minutes left, Duke finally missed a free throw (it shot 23-of-27 in the second half), but Parker got the rebound, was fouled and made a pair of free throws. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Parker scored 10 second-chance points.
Carolina shot 59.6 percent from the field. It was the first time during Williams' tenure that his team lost when shooting better than 50 percent. During those prior 141 games, the Tar Heels never faced a duo that was as on their game as Parker and Hood were Saturday.
“We’re a completely different team offensively I think; it’s so difficult to guard both of us at the same time,” Hood said. “Then you have guys like Andre [Dawkins], 'Sheed [Sulaimon], Quinn [Cook] that can chip in like that, we can score in the 80s, 90s every game.”
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJabari Parker led Duke to a win over North Carolina on Saturday.
It’s the most points ever scored by a Duke freshman against North Carolina and he’s just the second freshman to ever score 30 in the Duke-UNC rivalry. North Carolina’s Walter Davis scored 31 against Duke back in 1974.
He’s only the fourth Duke freshman to score 30 points in a game against any opponent, joining Kyrie Irving, J.J. Redick and Johnny Dawkins.
It’s Parker’s 16th 20-point game this season, tied with Stephon Marbury and trailing only Kenny Anderson for the most 20-point games by a freshman in ACC history.
And it’s his sixth consecutive double-double; he had eight double-doubles in his first 25 career games.
Parker was effective outside the paint on Saturday, scoring 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting. In the first meeting, he was 0-for-4 outside the paint.
As a team, Duke was much improved outside the paint compared to the first meeting this season, nearly doubling its point total and field goal percentage on shots outside the paint.
The Blue Devils rebounded 53 percent of their missed shots, their second-highest offensive rebounding percentage this season. Duke outscored North Carolina 20-10 on second-chance points after being outscored 16-11 on such chances in their first meeting.
Parker was a key beneficiary of the Blue Devils’ offensive rebounding, with 10 of his points coming on second-chance opportunities.
Parker and Rodney Hood combined to score 54 of Duke’s 93 points, making twice as many field goals as the rest of their teammates combined.
That’s the most points those two have combined to score in a game this season and the second time they’ve combined to break 50.
For the Blue Devils, it’s their 33rd consecutive home win, tied with Stephen F. Austin for the longest active home win streak in D-I men’s hoops.
North Carolina shot 59.6 percent from the field, its second-highest in a game this season and its highest in a loss in the past 15 seasons.
Saturday, the last full day of regular-season college hoops, was a grand affair. We had overtime and history-making matchups and buzzer-beaters and memorable Senior Nights.
And the NCAA tournament hasn’t even started.
It’s probably best to recap this day according to its most significant numbers:
3,000: Bill Walton won two national championships with UCLA. Lew Alcindor won three national titles for the Bruins. J.J. Redick shattered records at Duke during his time there. Ralph Sampson won three consecutive Naismith player of the year awards at Virginia. Sampson, Alcindor and Walton are three of the greatest athletes who ever played at the collegiate level. But none of the aforementioned four players scored 3,000 points in their respective careers. Now, it’s only fair to note that eligibility limits blocked freshmen from competing with the varsity squads then and the 3-point line wasn’t available, either.
4: Iowa State and Oklahoma State have had two battles this season. And after Saturday’s thriller, the Cyclones can claim both victories over the Pokes, but they needed four overtimes to get there. The first game, a 98-97 win for Iowa State, demanded triple overtime in Stillwater. Naz Long hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to drag Saturday’s game into the extra period in Ames, where Iowa State secured the 85-81 victory in the rematch.
41: Remember that stuff about Andrew Wiggins not being aggressive enough? Well, that’s so 2013. The freshman, a finalist for the Wooden Award, has been one of America’s best players in recent months. Proof? He dropped a career-high 41 points in Kansas’ 92-86 loss at West Virginia. At one point in the game, the Mountaineers had a 64-39 lead. But the Jayhawks, who were missing Joel Embiid, had a chance in the end. Yes, Kansas suffered a loss, which doesn’t help its argument for a top seed. But Wiggins produced the second-highest point total for a freshman in Big 12 history, per ESPN Stats & Information. That’s impressive.
18-0: Kentucky made things interesting for a moment. But the Wildcats couldn’t handle Florida’s full onslaught in the Gators’ 84-65 victory in Gainesville, a win that gave Florida a perfect 18-0 record in conference play. The Gators are the first team in SEC history to finish a year with 18 wins, per ESPN Stats & Information. The win also extended Florida’s winning streak to 23 games.
13: In the final home game of his career at Louisville, Russ “Russdiculous” Smith decided to let his teammates shine. He dished out a career-high 13 assists during an 81-48 Senior Night win over UConn.
1: With Cincinnati topping Rutgers and Louisville beating UConn, the American Athletic Conference had a problem. The Bearcats and Cardinals split the league title so the conference used a coin flip to finalize the top seed in next week’s AAC tourney. The winner? Cincinnati. "I requested that Coach Pitino and I play one game of liar's poker," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin joked to reporters after the game. “We used to do that all the time -- for fun, obviously.”
7 minutes, 32 seconds: That’s how long Arizona went without a field goal in the second half of a 64-57 road loss to Oregon, which snapped the Wildcats' five-game winning streak. That drought helped the Ducks seize a commanding lead via their 17-5 run.
73 seconds: That’s how much time remained in the game when Glenn Robinson III hit a go-ahead 3-pointer in Michigan's 84-80 win over Indiana.
33: Wins for undefeated Wichita State after Saturday’s 67-42 victory over Missouri State in the Missouri Valley Conference tourney semifinals. The Shockers are just the third team in Division I history to achieve a 33-0 mark, per ESPN Stats & Information.
30: Jabari Parker's career high in a 93-81 win over North Carolina at Cameron Indoor (most points by a Duke freshman in a matchup against North Carolina, according to ESPN Stats & Information), which gave Duke 33 consecutive home wins -- a Division I-high that the Blue Devils currently share with Stephen F. Austin.
2007: Eastern Kentucky upset top-seeded Belmont, 79-73, in the Ohio Valley tourney title game. The Colonels became the second team to punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament this season. And they’ll be dancing for the first time since 2007.
North Carolina’s postponed first meeting with Duke might have set in motion a crazy change of fortunes for both squads. The Tar Heels had confidence for the game originally scheduled for Feb. 12, but the Blue Devils had more.
Around Chapel Hill, the game didn’t have the same buzz as in previous years because Carolina fans still looked at their team skeptically. Something happened when the game was moved to Feb. 20 after a snowstorm stopped Duke’s charter bus from delivering them down U.S. 15-501.
It turned an accommodating Dean E. Smith Center crowd into an angry one.
More importantly for the Tar Heels, it gave them the validation they sorely needed. They’d won seven in row before handing then-No. 5 Duke a 74-66 loss, but that was the game that made the other wins matter.
“You still have people now congratulating you on the win over Duke even though you’ve played [four] games afterwards,” UNC senior guard Leslie McDonald said. “I don’t know; it’s just something about playing against Duke. I think that game really got everybody together and opened their eyes, saying, 'This is a good team.'”
The Tar Heels are now the self-assured team heading into Durham, with their winning streak reaching 12 in a row. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the 10 previous times Carolina has faced the Blue Devils after winning at least 12 in a row, the Heels have won nine of the meetings.
It presumably emboldened some North Carolina students to temporarily rename “Krzyzewskiville,” the area where Duke students camp out for game tickets. Someone painted a white sheet with “Williamsville” written in Carolina blue and hung it up in front of Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Yes, nothing speaks of confidence like trying to clown your rival. No one was trying to taunt Duke before the postponement. But even North Carolina coach Roy Williams acknowledged that victory added an exclamation point to their winning streak.
“We know that we can win the game because we already have,” Williams said. “Does that mean we’re going to win [Saturday, 9 p.m. ET on ESPN]? No, and I think our players understand that. Whether it’s validation, as you said, or just us gaining some confidence from the game, I think there is a difference.”
Duke finds itself in need of a confidence boost after losing at Wake Forest on Wednesday. The Blue Devils are no longer being touted as a potential No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament. If they lose again to the Heels, they could also lose playing the opening NCAA tournament weekend in Raleigh, N.C.
Duke senior forward Josh Hairston, playing in what will be in his final game in Cameron Indoor Stadium against the Heels, called the loss to the Demon Deacons “probably our worst defeat of the season.”
“We basically low-balled the game,” Hairston said. “We thought that because of who we were, our ranking and all that, they would lay over for us.”
A troubling pattern is emerging that could make for a short postseason showing if the Blue Devils don’t rectify it.
In its loss to Carolina, Duke couldn’t find a way to close out the game. The Tar Heels outscored the Blue Devils 18-6 in the final 4:55. Duke was 2-for-7 from the floor during that stretch, missed all four 3-point attempts and committed two turnovers.
Duke’s 82-72 loss to Wake Forest produced a similar stretch. The Blue Devils were outscored 23-6 over the final 5:44, in which they shot 2-for-10 from the floor, missed all six 3-point attempts and committed six turnovers.
“I think we let up in certain games, not all the time; we let up when we get a lead and that can’t be the case going forward,” said Duke forward Rodney Hood.
Another cause for concern is the Blue Devils’ 3-point shooting. They ranked second nationally, making 42 percent from behind the arc, through their first 25 games. Since going 5-of-22 against Carolina, they have shot just 27 percent from 3-point range in their last four games.
Hood said the shooting will improve if the Blue Devils revert to making the extra pass instead of trying to score as individuals. He said they’ve been working on it since the Virginia game in mid-January, but it was reiterated after going 6-of-27 against Wake.
“Sometimes one game can devastate you or it can make you better. I think Wake Forest made us better,” Hood said. “Before Wake Forest we were playing very good basketball in that stretch we had. We’re confident we’re not looking at it like the season is over. We’re confident for [Carolina].”
Duke will face a confident Carolina team and the Blue Devils are partly to blame for the Heels' rise.
“It has been a lot more positive vibes around here. People are lot more optimistic about what we can do later this month and in the [NCAA] tournament,” Paige said. “We’re obviously feeling the same way. Even though we’ve played ugly the last couple of games, we’re still able to win and win consistently and that kind of thing helps you later on in March.”
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeESPN's Basketball Power Index gives Jabari Parker and the Duke Blue Devils a 77 percent chance of winning against North Carolina Saturday.
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index rates teams using a system that takes into account factors such as the pace of a game, margin of victory, game site and absence of key players.
In addition, BPI can be used to make projections of each team’s chance of winning a specific matchup. The team with the higher chance to win according to BPI has won about 73 percent of the time this season.
Here is a preview of five matchups for the final weekend of the regular season, examined using information produced by BPI (through games of March 6):
BPI No. 27 North Carolina at 9 Duke (9 PM Saturday, ESPN)
BPI Projection: Duke 77 percent likely to win
Duke is coming off its worst performance of the season based on BPI Game Score, a 37 (on a 0-to-100 scale) in its 82-72 loss at Wake Forest on Wednesday. That game was two months after Wake Forest beat North Carolina 73-67.
North Carolina has won 12 games in succession, but the three most recent victories (by one point over North Carolina State, four points over Virginia Tech and two points over Notre Dame) were against opponents outside the BPI Top 70 and earned Game Scores in the high 70s, compared with Game Scores in the 90s for the first nine games of the Tar Heels’ streak.
The Blue Devils have the third-best home-court BPI this season (behind Kansas and Arizona), whereas North Carolina ranks 34th in road BPI.
BPI No. 44 Baylor at 49 Kansas State (1:30 PM Saturday, ESPN3)
BPI Projection: Kansas State 62 percent likely to win
Kansas State would be the first team out if current BPI ratings determined the NCAA field; Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology has the Wildcats as a No. 8 seed. Baylor, a No. 9 seed in Bracketology, is the fifth-lowest team in BPI currently projected for a tournament spot.
What does home court mean to Kansas State? In their six Big 12 series against opponents in the BPI Top 60, the Wildcats have won at home and lost on the road. These teams played Feb. 15 in Waco, Texas, where Baylor won 87-73 in two overtimes. Since losing to Oklahoma on Feb. 8, Baylor has been 6-1 (six of the games against Top 100 teams) with all six wins earning BPI Game Scores of at least 94.
BPI No. 17 Pittsburgh at 52 Clemson (4 PM Saturday, ESPN3)
BPI Projection: Pittsburgh 57 percent likely to win
Clemson would be the third team out of the NCAA field, if it were determined solely on current BPI ratings. Although the Tigers have two losses to teams outside the BPI Top 100 (Wake Forest and Auburn), they were by a combined seven points. This game represents a chance for them to improve on their 3-7 record against BPI Top 50 teams.
Pittsburgh, unranked in The Associated Press poll and a projected No. 10 seed in Bracketology, would be a No. 5 seed if the NCAA field were determined by current BPI ratings. The disparity arises in part from factors BPI considers, such as final scoring margin; five of the Panthers’ losses to Top 30 teams have been by a combined 15 points.
BPI No. 10 Kentucky at 2 Florida (12 PM Saturday)
BPI Projection: Florida 78 percent likely to win
In their first meeting, Florida won by 10 in a relatively slow 59-possession game in Lexington, Ky. That game earned the Gators a 99.3 Game Score, their second-best of the season. Florida has the fourth-best home-court BPI this season.
Although Kentucky is 3-2 since that Feb. 15 loss to Florida, the losses were by a combined nine points. Eight-loss Kentucky is No. 25 in the AP poll and a seven seed in Bracketology. Of the Wildcats’ losses, all but the one to Florida have been by five points or fewer.
BPI No. 14 Michigan State at 16 Ohio State (4:30 PM Sunday)
BPI Projection: Ohio State 64 percent likely to win
Of its 30 games, Michigan State has been at full strength for 13, the fewest of any BPI Top 75 team.
Considering games when teams have been at full strength (having all five of its top players based on minutes played), the Spartans rank seventh in BPI. Michigan State is first and Ohio State second among BPI Top 20 teams as measured by inconsistency.
In their last six games, the Buckeyes have had three Game Scores of less than 70 and three greater than 93.
In my last installment of Weekend Picks for 2013-14, I’ll try to finish strong. I went 3-2 last week.
I’ll be flawless this weekend, or flawed -- one of the two.
Last week: 3-2
No. 25 Kentucky at No. 1 Florida, noon ET, CBS: In the first meeting, Florida wasn’t necessarily the better team. The Gators were just the better team in the final five minutes, when it mattered. Kentucky squandered a seven-point lead midway through the second half, and Scottie Wilbekin carried his team to a 10-point win. Kentucky’s 13 turnovers didn’t help, either. But it was much closer than the 10-point margin illustrated. It usually is with Kentucky, which has suffered seven of its eight losses by five points or less. The Wildcats have been competitive in every game, but they’ve failed to close. And that’s not a good thing in a road game against America’s top team.
Prediction: Florida 74, Kentucky 70
Popcorn Factor (9)
No. 14 North Carolina at No. 4 Duke, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Well, Duke lost to Wake Forest earlier this week. So there’s that. Wasn’t exactly the setup we’d imagined as we prepped for the second installment of the greatest rivalry in sports. But it actually makes this thing even more intriguing. Duke at home, desperate for a win to hold onto a probable 2-seed and maintain any hopes of grabbing a top seed in the Big Dance, while North Carolina continues to fatten its resume for a favorable position on Selection Sunday. This is also about momentum, a word you’ll hear 50,000 times in the coming weeks. The Tar Heels have as much as any team in the country after winning 12 in a row. Duke needs it. But the Blue Devils, who have struggled from the perimeter, will continue to slide and the Tar Heels will, once again, make Petey Pablo proud. Raise up.
Prediction: North Carolina 89, Duke 86 (double OT)
Popcorn Factor (10)
No. 21 New Mexico at No. 10 San Diego State, 10 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network: You can’t miss this game. Don’t do it. This is it. This is the Mountain West championship matchup. Winner goes home with the crown. The Lobos secured a 14-point win over their Mountain West rivals in the first game. One major factor? A pair of giants. Cameron Bairstow (6-9, 250 pounds) and Alex Kirk (7-0, 260 pounds) combined to finish with 32 points (Bairstow had 26), 18 rebounds and six blocks in the first meeting. The duo helped the Lobos limit SDSU star Xavier Thames to one of his worst games of the season (3-for-15, seven points), too. But, the Lobos will be in San Diego this time. And “The Show” will be bananas all night. Plus, Thames won’t struggle again with the home crowd behind him.
Prediction: San Diego State 63, New Mexico 60
Popcorn Factor (10)
No. 19 Connecticut at No. 11 Louisville, 2 p.m. ET, CBS: This matchup will feature two of America’s best guards, Shabazz Napier and Russ Smith. But this game is much bigger than two players. The Huskies know that. In the first meeting, a 74-64 road win by Louisville, Kevin Ollie’s program couldn’t get anything out of Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels, who went 5-for-23 in the loss. Napier is a dynamic player who can carry the Huskies. But he can’t beat the Cardinals on the road by himself. Rick Pitino’s program, which could grab a slice of the AAC title with a win, has grown in recent weeks. It’s not just Smith. Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell are playing well. Mangok Mathiang and Terry Rozier are contributing as freshmen. That takes a lot of pressure off Smith, who has reliable threats around him. And that’s not always the case for the Napier.
Prediction: Louisville 80, UConn 70
Popcorn Factor (8)
Oklahoma State at No. 16 Iowa State, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN: Marcus Smart is back. I mean, Marcus Smart is back! Whoa. He deserves most of the credit for a four-game winning streak that has pulled the Pokes out of purgatory and pushed them into the NCAA tourney conversation. How impressive is this finish? Well, only one team since the tourney expanded in 1985 has earned an at-large bid after enduring a seven-game losing streak, according to the folks at ESPN Stats & Info. Oklahoma State could be the second, especially if it earns a win over Iowa State in Ames. That won’t be an easy task, although the Cyclones have looked more like Wind Gusts in recent weeks. Tuesday night’s loss at Baylor told an important story about Fred Hoiberg’s program. Sometimes, his leaders don’t show up together on the same night. DeAndre Kane played well, but Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang are still missing. And that’s a troubling pattern.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 75, Iowa State 73
Popcorn Factor (10)
The Blue Devils reeled off 14 points to start the game and ended all suspense early as they cruised to a 69-53 victory in the Dean E. Smith Center.
“I just remember Duke just going off instantly, they just had a whole bunch of firepower,” Carolina senior guard Leslie McDonald said. “It was a tough experience because you wanted to end it out with a bang and Duke came out very powerful.”
The Heels would like to return the favor Saturday when they travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium. It will be the last home game for three Duke seniors -- guard Tyler Thornton, forward Josh Hairston and reserve Todd Zafirovski -- as well as guard Andre Dawkins, who is a graduate student. Who knows if it will be the last for freshman Jabari Parker. He hasn’t made a public decision on whether he’ll return for a second season or become an NBA lottery pick.
The Blue Devils need the comfy confines of home to help jump-start their slumping shooting percentages. Duke was shooting 42 percent from 3-point range entering the first meeting with Carolina. Since going 5-of-22 in the loss to the Heels, Duke is shooting just 27 percent over the past four games.
Home tends to heal all wounds for the Blue Devils. According to ESPN Stats & Information, in their 16 home games this season, they’ve scored five more points per game and shot two percentage points higher (47.6) from the field.
The outcome could determine way more than bragging rights, although it won’t have any bearing on the ACC crown. It marks just the fifth time in league history neither Carolina nor Duke had at least a share of the title for two years straight.
ACC regular-season champion Virginia probably will be slotted to play in Raleigh, N.C., for the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament. Early projections, including that from ESPN's Joe Lunardi, have Duke opening in Raleigh as a No. 2 seed. The Blue Devils need to win to ensure they stay in that slot. Should Carolina complete the sweep, it could allow the Heels to stay closer to home.
It just adds to the list of reasons why this rivalry doesn't take any games off.
With Saturday's highly anticipated matchup between the North Carolina Tar Heels (23-7) and Duke Blue Devils (23-7) fast approaching (9 p.m. ET, ESPN), we asked former college coaches Seth Greenberg and Bruce Pearl to break it all down. Each provided a scouting report on the biggest keys for both sides of the ball, with Greenberg taking the role of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Pearl the role of the Tar Heels' Roy Williams.
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That game has been in the back of his mind as the Tar Heels prepare to face Duke on Saturday.
“It’s a lot of motivation because I know I could have really done a lot more out there,” Johnson said. “The first (game) I just couldn’t stay out there, every time I’d get back out there I’d pick up another foul and be right back on the bench.”
Arguably Carolina's best frontcourt duo is Johnson at center playing alongside James Michael McAdoo at power forward. Johnson scores more than the defensive-minded Desmond Hubert and is better defensively on the perimeter than Kennedy Meeks and Joel James. But Johnson's presence was largely absent in the first matchup with Duke.
Johnson entered the game at the 16:37 mark of the first half. Just 11 seconds in, he was whistled for his first foul. (Granted, Duke’s Jabari Parker would have probably received a fine in the NBA for flopping, but Johnson was called for a charge.)
Another 38 seconds, another foul. This time Johnson was a little too lackadaisical while receiving the ball so far out from the basket. Marcus Paige threw it to Johnson as a way to break pressure and Johnson seemed surprised that Marshall Plumlee still stepped out to defend despite being 30 feet from the basket. Plumlee stripped the ball and in trying to recover it, Johnson was whistled for a reaching foul.
With two fouls, Johnson sat out six minutes before re-entering the game with 9:09 left in the first half. Left isolated guarding Parker on the perimeter, Johnson picked up his third foul for a hand check as Parker drove to the basket. Johnson sat the remaining six minutes of the first half.
Johnson picked up his fourth foul in the second half after leaving Plumlee to attempt to block a shot. It led to three Duke offensive rebounds due to Carolina players out of position to box out. Johnson tried to stay out of the fray on Plumlee’s shot and a Parker tip before reaching in on Parker’s second shot. Johnson was on the court all of 2:04 minutes before heading back to the bench.
Johnson fouled out with 1:56 to go, again after finding himself guarding Parker on a drive to the basket.
Johnson’s five points against the Blue Devils snapped his string of five consecutive games of scoring in double figures, though he did manage to have six rebounds in just 14 minutes. The game and his performance leave him wanting much more when the Tar Heels travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday for the rematch.
During the Tar Heels’ 12-game winning streak, Paige is averaging 17.1 points and shooting 45.8 percent from 3-point range. He has been Carolina’s leading scorer and has had just five games this season when he was kept from reaching double figures.
He’s now had back-to-back games under 10 after the Irish limited him to 2-of-8 shooting from the floor and just 1-of-5 from behind the arc. (Paige was 3-of-7 from the field for nine points against Virginia Tech.)
“He knows his team needs him sometimes and they do a great job of running stuff for him ball-screening or stagger-screening,” Brey said. “That’s why we went diamond-and-1 just so somebody else takes the shot. [Nate] Britt took two of them and I’m going to live with that and he made them.”
Paige has seen tailored defenses before. Back in nonconference play, Texas ran a triangle-and-2 on him and Leslie McDonald, daring the Heels to shoot from outside. Even teams that primarily play man-to-man have spliced in use of zone against Carolina.
“If you look at our percentages, we’re not a good 3-point shooting team,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “Really, it’s the first time in 26 years coaching I’ve ever been concerned about a zone. I always loved it when teams played zone because we had great movement and we could shoot the crap out of the ball. Zone never bothered us. This year, people think that’s the way to play us.”
Carolina has become more effective against zone defenses, starting with its shooting. In the last eight games, J.P. Tokoto is shooting 56.9 percent from the field and is averaging 11.2 points.
His 7-for-11 performance against N.C. State helped carry the Heels during the stretches when Paige wasn’t on. Tokoto was also 5-for-5 against the Irish.
Better passing has also helped. The Heels had assists on 17 of their 25 made baskets against Notre Dame.
They will need to continue to do both well against zones if they expect to continue their winning streak throughout March.
ESPN.com reporters Eamonn Brennan, Mryon Medcalf and C.L. Brown join host Chantel Jennings to discuss the biggest bubble battles, Kansas without Joel Embiid, legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith’s health and more from the last week of the regular season.