ACC Basketball: Duke hammers North Carolina
CHAPEL HILL — Seth Curry made shot after shot to give No. 3 Duke a big early lead on North Carolina that turned the latest installment of their fierce rivalry into a rout.
The senior hit his first seven shots during Duke’s torrid start, helping the Blue Devils cruise to a 69-53 victory Saturday night.
Curry finished with 20 points, while Mason Plumlee turned in his best performance in a month with 23 points and 13 rebounds. That duo provided Duke (27-4, 14-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) all the punch it needed to earn a season sweep of the Tar Heels.
Duke scored the game’s first 14 points, never let UNC (22-9, 12-6) closer than nine and led by 25 points after halftime. The Blue Devils shot 55 percent, including 18 for 26 (69 percent) in a first half that silenced a once-rowdy Smith Center crowd and overwhelmed the once-surging Tar Heels.
UNC had gone 6-1 since going to a four-guard lineup in the first meeting, but the Tar Heels looked rattled once the Blue Devils charged in front, and North Carolina never recovered.
James Michael McAdoo finished with 15 points to lead the Tar Heels despite playing with a bulging disk in his back, but the rest of his teammates did little to help him. The Tar Heels all too often settled for jumpers and didn’t seem interested in attacking the rim on the way to shooting just 34 percent.
That included missing their first 11 3-point tries and finishing 1 for 14 from behind the arc, an area where the Tar Heels had thrived since coach Roy Williams inserted 6-foot-5 sophomore P.J. Hairston into the starting lineup at the 4-spot.
Hairston finished with 14 points on 4-for-12 shooting and hit the Tar Heels’ first 3 to cut the deficit to 63-49 at the 5-minute mark. But Quinn Cook answered with two driving baskets, the second a hanging shot at the rim that dropped through as the shot clock expired and took back any fleeting momentum North Carolina had built.
In fact, the game looked a lot like last year’s regular-season finale at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the Tar Heels jumped all over the Blue Devils early on the way to a blowout win.
In each of the past two seasons, Duke had won the first meeting only to have UNC win the second to clinch the ACC regular-season title.
That story line was off the table this time. Miami took care of that by beating Clemson for the outright title earlier Saturday. Duke had already clinched the No. 2 seed for the conference tournament, while North Carolina State’s loss at Florida State meant the Tar Heels would be the No. 3 seed but could still tie Duke for second in the standings.
Instead, Curry and the Blue Devils came out with a shooting display that ran North Carolina right out of the Dean Dome by halftime in a performance that will resonate until next week’s league tournament in Greensboro.
Not to mention it turned the latest renewal of the famed rivalry into a colossal dud.
Curry made one 3, hit a scooping layup and banked in a runner during Duke’s 6-for-6 start that helped the Blue Devils to a football-esque 14-0 lead.
And he didn’t stop, either.
Curry nailed a tough jumper against Reggie Bullock. He lost Bullock to drain another shot. He hit one even as he fell backward to the floor, the kind of play that eliminates any doubt about whose night it’s going to be.
After Curry made his seventh straight shot, Williams practically wandered out near midcourt to shout at his players as they ran down on offense.
Curry finished 8 for 13 and Plumlee took over inside by making 10 of 15 shots against the Tar Heels’ undersized frontline.
The Blue Devils’ Cook added 12 points and completely outplayed UNC freshman point guard Marcus Paige, who regressed from his recent strong play with four points on 1-for-6 shooting and five turnovers in 32 minutes.