Tar Heel Game Recap: Austin Rivers Stuns Carolina At The Buzzer


What a game!  The greatest rivalry in college sports did not disappoint Wednesday night as the North Carolina Tar Heels took on the Duke Blue Devils.  The Dean Smith Center was rocking in Carolina.  As the day drug on all I could think about was watching the Dean Dome go crazy (our students go to our games, unlike Duke’s).  All day I sat in front of the TV watching all the networks debate the game.  Watched a few of the classic Carolina-Duke battles on ESPN Classic.  About 90 minutes before game time I didn’t think I could take it anymore.  But finally, like Christmas Day when your a kid, the game was here.

How it went down: Duke got out to an early lead riding Austin Rivers early.  The Blue Devils started out hot from down town, Duke hit five three pointers in the first eight minutes of the game.  The Tar Heel offense forced things early and again seemed reluctant to pass in the half court or when out numbered in transition.  Tyler Zeller fueled Carolina in the first half with a great start.  Zeller consistently knocked down the mid range jumper, won the battle in the post and did his usual great job of running the floor.  If not for he and Kendall Marshall’s assists, Carolina might have been out of it early.  Z finished the half with 19 points and 8 rebounds.

The perimeter defense of UNC was awful in the first half.  Carolina seemed to refuse to guard the shooter, leaving the Blue Devils with a ton of open three’s.  Duke did a great job of moving without the ball and getting through screens and finding room.  Carolina didn’t disappoint in the rebounding department dominating Duke as expected.   Harrison Barnes didn’t do much with his big size advantage in the first half which makes me wonder how healthy that ankle really is.  All of Barnes six first half points came from the line in a quiet first half where he went 0-4 from the field.

The rest of the perimeter was quiet in the first half also as Barnes, Reggie Bullock and PJ Hairston combined for zero FGs.  The game got a little chippy around the one minute mark in the first half when Reggie Bullock got tangled up with Rivers.  John Henson was also bumping around with some other Blue Devils.  Carolina went on a big run the last minute ending the half with a huge block from Zeller leading to a transition layup.  The Tar Heels led Duke 43-40 at the half.

In the second half Carolina made a key defensive adjustment of moving Bullock on Rivers.  Rivers abused Marshall in the first half and right away the defense on the perimeter looked good.  Barnes became more aggressive and Marshall starting penetrating the lane.  It looked like Roy’s halftime adjustments worked well early.  UNC extended the lead to ten at the 16 minute mark.  The intensity and defensive difference in the second half was like night and day.  Carolina’s rebounding dominance continued early on in the second and UNC was firing on all cylinders.

Barnes got it going driving to the basket making some big time finishes at the rim.  He hit Carolinas first three pointer with 15 minutes left in the game.  I questioned the ankle in the first half, he looked to be moving fine in the second.  Barnes picked up his third foul on a stupid play 90 feet from the basket.   Roy Williams kept him in the game and by the 10 minute mark Barnes had 21 points.  Austin Rivers refused to allow Carolina to get too far ahead, each time UNC took the lead above 10 it seemed like Rivers would knock down a three.  As Barnes got going the team started to go away from Zeller.  Z did not score in the second half until the 9:30 mark after barley touching the ball before that.

Foul trouble hit the Heels early putting the Blue Devils in the double bonus early in the half.  Zeller picked up his fourth at the seven minute mark leaving Carolina to fend without it’s senior leader.  James Michael McAdoo came in and aside from a couple boneheaded plays had a pretty good game overall.  JMM finished really well at the cup, played pretty good help defense and rebounded the ball well.  Zeller reentered at the 3:30 mark with Carolina leading by ten.  Down the stretch Rivers again took it to Carolina, having the best game of his college career.  Fortunately he didn’t get any substantial help from anyone else.  For the first time this season Barnes seemed to demand the basketball and made a noticeable effort to put the team on his back offensively.

Two big threes by Curry and Rivers and a couple defensive stops cut Carolinas lead to just 2 after an 9-0 run by Duke.  Tyler Zeller made just 1 of 2 FTs with less than a minute to go and suddenly it was a classic Carolina-Duke nail bitter in Chapel Hill.  Duke called their last time out with 20 seconds left and 11 on the shot clock.  Coach K the rat vs Roy Williams in the huddles.  Tar Heel nation was on the edge of their seats.  A badly missed three pointer by Ryan Kelly was deflected by Zeller and somehow went in the basket, at the 14.2 mark and the officials conferred and ruled it a 2 point basket.  A one point game with 14.2 left, Carolina ball.  John Henson in-bounded the ball to Tyler Zeller who was immediately fouled leaving 13.9 on the clock.  Zeller stepped to the line, and again missed one of his two foul shots.  Duke took the ball up with a chance to win the game and with Zeller caught out on the perimeter giving him too much room to shoot, the unthinkable happened.  Austin Rivers buries a three pointer at the buzzer to stun Carolina.  85-84 Duke.

A devastating loss as UNC led by 10-12 points for most of the second half and squandered it in the end.  Rivers stupid quotes saying the fact that everybody favoring Carolina before the game “pissed him off” only make this more disgusting.

Biggest Takeaway: The perimeter defense needs work.  It’s not the 1 on 1 defense that really worries me outside of PG Kendall Marshall.  Every Tar Heel perimeter player has plenty of lateral quickness to stay with their man.  The team needs to play better well, team defense on the perimeter.  The big men do a great job of rotating and helping out, many of Carolinas blocks come from inside help.  The boys on the wing need to fight through screens more effectively and help out on the shooter.  UNC made the necessary adjustments and this problem almost went away in the second half.  But Carolina must be more consistent in this area if they want to compete for the national title in March.  More on this observation in a feature later this week.  Also, will Roy Williams ever call a timeout with the game on the line?

Looking ahead: The Tar Heels will host Virginia on Saturday February 11th at 1pm.  The game will be televised on the ACC Network.  Duke also plays Saturday, they host MD at Cameron Indoor.

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