Duke, BC mold logjam at top of ACC
By Luke DeCock
Raleigh News and Observer
CHAPEL HILL — Right about the time the crowd was mouthing “O’er the ramparts we watched,” before Wednesday’s Duke-North Carolina game, 700 miles away Boston College’s Jordan Daniels was sinking the free throw that changed what the game would mean entirely.
All of a sudden, North Carolina and Duke weren’t battling to become the leading contender to Florida State’s title chase. Now, they were fighting to take control of the ACC, after Daniels and Boston College upset the Seminoles.
So, when Austin Rivers hit a 24-footer over Tyler Zeller to clinch an 85-84 Duke win, he not only secured a place in this rivalry’s history, he also turned the ACC standings upside down.
There may be a three-way tie for first place at 7-2, but in one night, Duke went from the outside to the thick of the title race.
“In control of our own destiny is the word,” Duke forward Ryan Kelly said. “We’re certainly not in control of what other people do. We created an opportunity for ourselves, and now we have to take advantage of it.”
The first half might have been the best half of basketball the ACC has seen in a while, up and down the court with furious aggression, and without question the loudest the Smith Center has been in years.
There was even a flaring of tensions as Reggie Bullock loomed over a fallen Rivers, too close for Rivers’ comfort.
North Carolina pressed its advantage inside; Duke fired away from 3-point range.
The second half turned out even better. Harrison Barnes staked North Carolina to a 13-point lead, and the Tar Heels led by 10 with less than three minutes to play, only to struggle at the free-throw line down the stretch.
Zeller’s final miss, with 13.9 seconds to play, left the door open for Rivers to put his personal stamp on this rivalry.
Duke, left for dead in the ACC title race, is now very much alive. All three teams are 7-2, but the regular-season title may just come down to the game between the Seminoles and Blue Devils in Tallahassee in two weeks.
North Carolina, meanwhile, needs help. There’s no rematch with Florida State, and even if North Carolina gets vengeance against Duke on March 3, the Tar Heels would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Seminoles.
A win Wednesday would have put the Tar Heels in command. The loss was very different from their 33-point loss at Florida State, but just as damaging to their title hopes.
“A loss is a loss, regardless,” Barnes said. “We’re whatever and two in the ACC.”
As Florida State prepared to take off outside Boston, the Tar Heels were still holding what appeared to be a secure lead.
By the time Rivers’ shot went up, the Seminoles were somewhere over Connecticut on their way up to 36,000 feet, with no idea how the ACC race had changed once their wheels left the ground.