How Duke Took Down A Top Seed With One Rotation

How many college basketball players does it take to upset the No. 5 ranked team in the country? If you are Duke, it only takes five.

Wednesday night in Chapel Hill, the Blue Devils quite literally shocked the world by defeating the Tar Heels 74-73. The kicker — Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski only played seven guys, five of whom played 93 percent of the game.

Sophomore guard Grayson Allen led the team with 23 points, grabbed seven rebounds and scooped up two steals. Freshman phenom Brandon Ingram finished with 20 points, a team-high 10 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and one steal, and was virtually impossible for North Carolina’s defense to guard. Both guys played the entire 40 minutes.

In the post-game press conference, Coach K singled out freshman guard Luke Kennard for stepping up. He played 32 minutes and finished with 15 points. Kennard’s play was huge for the Blue Devils as junior guard Matt Jones went down with an ankle injury with 7:43 left in the first half.

Duke also received solid minutes from Marshall Plumlee, who finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and a steal, as well as Derryck Thornton, who added five points. Freshman Chase Jeter played five minutes to round out the rotation.

So how did Duke pull off an upset against a North Carolina team that, before the night, ranked third in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.69) and shot a season-best 59.3 percent in its last game against Pittsburgh? It did these three things.

Doing More With Less

“We scored enough points to stay close,” said Krzyzewski.

Duke finished the game shooting 41.5 percent form the field, while UNC shot 42.9 percent. But while the Tar Heels were 30-70 and only 11-32 from beyond the arc, the Blue Devils hit 27-65 and 11-29 from three-point land. Basically, shot selection played a major role in the game. Even North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said so after the game.

“It was part of the shot selection,” said Williams when asked what he believed hurt the team’s shooting in the second half. “We took a couple of tough shots.”

Duke was also able to capitalize on North Carolina’s 10 turnovers, fashioning the miscues into 13 points, whereas UNC only managed to score two points off of Duke’s seven turnovers.

Hanging Tough

Coach K couldn’t say it enough post-game: His team just would not quit. Despite being outrebounded 46-34 and outscored in the paint (52-24), Duke hung around and continued to cause problems for the Tar Heels, especially in the second half.

“Their defense got stronger, and our offense got weaker,” commented Williams. “It’s a wonderful rivalry to be involved in, but I’m getting tired of just being involved. We’ve got to play better.”

Wasn’t Duke supposed to be the tired one, coach?

Smart Defensive Play

Duke held Marcus Paige to just seven points, Kennedy Meeks to just six points and Joel Berry II to just eight points, all of whom average double digits. Are you seeing the pattern here? Three of North Carolina’s consistent scorers essentially neutralized by five guys.

That's not to mention the six steals the Blue Devils recorded compared to North Carolina’s one.

Maybe this kind of play just isn’t sustainable in the long run, especially in a conference like the ACC. But one thing remains true: You can’t teach toughness. Most coaches will tell you they would rather have five guys who will fight with everything in them than 10 guys who don’t know what it means to push through the pain.

“Tonight was really just a hard-fought game,” said Krzyzewski. “Our guys have been able to fight through tired.”

With Louisville, Florida State, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest and another bout with UNC left on their schedule, the Blue Devils better find a way to rest up.

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