Though an ACC title is out of reach and the second seed in the conference tournament is secured, third-ranked Duke still sees plenty to play for in its regular-season finale.
A win Saturday night at No. 19 North Carolina would give it a regular-season sweep over its greatest rival while entering postseason play on an 11-game winning streak and furthering its bid for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Blue Devils (27-3, 14-3) head to Chapel Hill after rallying from a nine-point deficit in the final 2:30 of regulation before beating the Tar Heels 92-90 in overtime at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Feb. 18.
Such close contests have been scarce at home, where Duke has won its last five by an average of 23.2 points, but on the road it’s 8-2 and has played six straight decided by single digits.
With Wednesday’s 94-51 home win over Wake Forest, the Blue Devils matched their longest conference winning streak since stringing together 14 ACC wins from Dec. 4, 2005-Feb. 22, 2006.
Grayson Allen scored a personal-best 27 points as the freshman played a career-high 24 minutes with the Blue Devils dealing with a series of injuries, though that didn’t slow them from connecting on 13 of 25 from 3-point range. Over the last eight games, they’ve shot 45.2 percent from beyond the arc with a 10-of-16 mark against the Tar Heels accounting for a season-best 62.5 percent.
“We secured the second spot for the ACC tournament, which is great, and a big game on Saturday,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Let’s get healthy and go for it.”
Krzyzewski was referring to ankle injuries to Allen, Jahlil Okafor, Quinn Cook, Amile Jefferson and Justise Winslow, though he said all five will play and is more concerned with aspects of the last meeting that made things so close.
North Carolina (21-9, 11-6) grabbed 19 offensive rebounds and scored 62 points in the paint.
“The last game we played against them was an amazing game,” Krzyzewski said. ” … It was transition and a lot of it was offensive rebounding. … Defensive rebounding, transition defense, and then we’ve got to hit some shots against them. But we’ve gotten better since then.”
Duke’s backcourt duo of Cook and Tyus Jones scored 22 apiece in the first meeting, with Jones scoring the Blue Devils’ final nine in regulation. Cook, the team’s No. 2 scorer behind Okafor with 15.8 points per game, is averaging 16.0 points in his last five games against the Tar Heels, while Jones’ total matched a career high.
For North Carolina, the loss to Duke was part of a 2-5 stretch in which it experienced its only two losing streaks of the season. Since, the Tar Heels have recorded consecutive wins, including an 81-49 victory at Georgia Tech on Tuesday.
“Coach (Roy Williams) told us don’t worry about Duke until we get this game over with,” said freshman guard Joel Berry, who scored a season-high 15 points. “Now our mind is on Duke, and it gives us a lot of momentum.”
UNC hasn’t built a lot of momentum against ranked opponents, losing three straight and five of seven after winning two in November. Duke, conversely, is 6-1 against the Top 25 with three straight wins, and the Blue Devils have won nine of 12 in the rivalry.
Tar Heels top scorer Marcus Paige (13.2 points per game) has been quiet lately with 9.5 points on 37.5 percent shooting over his past six, including a five-point effort on 2-of-11 shooting against Duke. He’s 1-4 in his career in the series – all of which have come against Blue Devils teams ranked in the top 5 – while averaging 10.0 points on 38.0 percent.