Duke knocks off Carolina late
By Peter Santo
The North Carolina-Duke rivalry is one of the oldest rivalries in college sports, with UNC leading the all time head to head matchup 133-105 . Despite this, the game last night was bigger than sports, as both teams paid their respects for legendary coach Dean Smith. Every game between these two rivals is an instant classic and last night’s game was no different.
Going into Cameron Indoor Stadium and playing Duke is a difficult task for any team, never mind the Blue Devils’ archrivals the Tar Heels. The Cameron Crazies were loud throughout, and the building was rocking, but UNC appeared up to the task until a late comeback by the Blue Devils.
Duke’s roster is not that of a typical championship contender, with only 8 players on scholarship with 4 of those being freshmen. Jahlil Okafor, who is considered to be a Wooden Award candidate, along with fellow freshman Tyus Jones, lead Duke.
Quinn Cook, a senior, is Jones’s backcourt mate and a 3-point marksman who is a leader and scorer. Okafor demanded a double team throughout the game, something that is typically unheard of under a Roy Williams led team.
UNC is led by point guard Marcus Paige and forward J.P. Tokoto. The Heels are very deep up front, as they gave Duke fits inside throughout the game. UNC outscored the rival Blue Devils 62-40 in the paint. Despite Okafor’s powerful yet agile game in the paint, the Tar Heel’s front line which includes Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks, proved to be overpowering throughout.
Tyus Jones put the team on his back at the end of regulation and into OT. He showed great maturity as he teamed with Okafor to lead the team even as a freshman. Jones has shown maturity over and over again and it was magnified on this big stage.
Although this was a big win, Jones and Duke do not have an easy path to the championship because of the Kentucky Wildcats. Kentucky is 26-0 and their resume is not filled with victories over pushovers.
Wins over 5th ranked Kansas by 32, 7th ranked Texas by 22, 18th ranked UNC by 13 and then number 4 Louisville by 8. This proves that Kentucky has been tested and passed those tests with flying colors.
However throughout the regular season the Wildcats have received their lesser opponents best punches. They went to OT with Ole Miss and then the next game they went into 2OT with Texas A&M. Both teams are competitive in the SEC but they were never given a chance to upset the powerful Wildcats.
Teams such as LSU and Arkansas are gritty tournament teams. Arkansas is ranked 18th in the country, a sign they can play with Kentucky. Both teams have very skilled big men such as Bobby Portis Jr, who is a projected lottery pick and Jordan Mickey, who is a Wooden’s Top 30 finalist. LSU gave Kentucky a run for their money, falling 71-69 and they had a chance to win at the end.
As the NCAA tournament nears, college basketball will be searching for a team to knock Kentucky off its perch at the top, and after last night’s game, both North Carolina and Duke appear to be worthy challengers.
Tim Rey also contributed to this report