Duke-UNC Game Round-By-Round: Live, Die And Live By The Long Ball

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 08: The Duke Blue Devils celebrate after Austin Rivers #0 makes a game-winning 3 pointer as time expires to defeat the North Carolina Tar Heels 85-84 at the Dean Smith Center on February 8, 2012 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

A round-by-round look at Wednesday night's heavyweight battle between North Carolina and Duke. UNC failed to land the knockout blow, and Duke sneaked out a surprise win in the tenth round.

Readers of Rock M Nation know by now that I have quite a thing for boxing analogies. Body blows, trading shots, haymakers, knockdowns ... in general, boxing provides us with so many easy-to-grasp concepts regarding athletic contests and human drama that it is simple instinct for me to revert to these terms.

As strange as it sounds, college basketball appears to be one of the very best sports for unloading a series of references to the Sweet Science, for both relatively obvious ways (3-pointers are haymakers, a good interior game is a series of body blows, etc.) and less obvious ones. For a while at Rock M, we have been looking at a 40-minute basketball game like a 10-round fight, with each four-minute T.V. timeout segment serving as a "round." Looking back at games this way allows us to get a lovely sense for a game's ebbs and flows, and it reminds us of some of the storylines we neglect when we just focus on the box score and the final two minutes.

Granted, the box score and final two minutes tell a pretty specific tale about Duke's 85-84 upset of North Carolina in Chapel Hill last night -- Austin Rivers made six 3-pointers and scored 29 points, Tyler Zeller scored 23 points and grabbed 11 boards, and Duke outscored UNC, 10-2, in the final two minutes to steal the win. But it is worth it to go round-by-round to remember just how this one came about. The Tar Heels' inability to put Duke away in Rounds Eight and Nine opened the door for a surprise knockout in the final round.

Round One

The game plan for both teams is pretty clear. For North Carolina, the goal was to go inside early and often to Tyler Zeller. He missed a shot on the opening possession, then scored on three of the next four. Meanwhile, Austin Rivers had his first of three bursts; he made a 3-pointer on Duke's second possession, made two free throws on the third, then made two more baskets to end up with 10 points in the first four minutes.

Score: Duke 12 (1.50 per possession), UNC 7 (1.00)
Boxing Score: Duke 10-9

Round Two

In a long second round (the official timeout did not come until just 8:57 remained in the first half), UNC's offense still ran through Zeller, but Kendall Marshall began to heat up. Marshall scored on back-to-back possessions to cut Duke's lead to 20-17, then John Henson chipped in a pair of buckets as well. Duke, meanwhile, lived and died by the jumper. They made three 3-pointers -- one each by Andre Dawkins, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry -- but missed five others. The inside game did not exist, but Duke retained a 27-21 lead.

Score: Duke 15 (1.25), UNC 14 (1.08)
Boxing Score: Duke 10-9

Round Three

When one round goes long, the next is sure to go short. Zeller scored twice in two possessions, and the Tar Heels had cut the lead to 29-25 when the third timeout came in at 7:55.

Score: UNC 4 (2.00), Duke 2 (1.00)
Boxing Score: UNC 10-9

Round Four

After 12 incredibly quiet minutes, Harrison Barnes finally got on the board in Round Four, but it was still the Zeller Show. He scored four of UNC's eight points here, while Duke scored on just two of six possessions; this being Duke, however, both scores came on 3-pointers (one by Curry, one by Dawkins), and they retained a shrinking lead.

Score: UNC 8 (1.33), Duke 6 (1.00)
Boxing Score: UNC 10-9

Round Five

The tide had been slowly shifting toward the Tar Heels at this point, but Duke staved off the big UNC run with the long ball. In Round Five, however, disaster began to strike. The Blue Devils turned the ball over five times in seven possessions to end the half. Zeller struggled as well -- a turnover, a missed field goal, and two missed free throws -- but Barnes and Henson each scored four points, and after trailing throughout the entire first half, the Heels surged to a three-point halftime lead on the strength of their defense.

In boxing parlance, Duke was on the ropes and wobbly but stayed on its feet until the bell.

Score: UNC 10 (1.25), Duke 5 (0.63)
Boxing Score: UNC 10-9

Round Six

It seemed Duke lost their legs and focus in Round Five, and the halftime break did nothing to ease that. They scored on just two of their first ten possessions of the second half and missed seven of their first nine shots. Throw in another pair of turnovers and a couple of big plays by Marshall (two free throws, then an old-fashioned three-point play), and suddenly UNC found itself up 10, 54-44, with 16 minutes remaining. Duke survived the fifth round without a knockdown, but not the sixth.

Score: UNC 11 (1.10), Duke 4 (0.40)
Boxing Score: UNC 10-8

Round Seven

Rivers re-emerged just in time. North Carolina had outscored Duke 21-9 in Rounds Five and Six thanks mostly to a complete offensive collapse by the Blue Devils -- Duke had scored just nine points on 18 possessions. But in Round Seven, UNC headed up. Barnes scored on three consecutive possessions, then Marshall scored on two straight, but back-to-back 3-pointers by Rivers just barely kept Duke in the game. UNC's lead expanded to 65-53 at the 12-minute break, but without Rivers, this would have been a knockout round for the Heels.

Score: UNC 11 (1.83), Duke 9 (1.50)
Boxing Score: UNC 10-9

Round Eight

UNC's offensive burst did not last long. In the "fight's" final three rounds, they would score just 19 points on 19 possessions; two turnovers by Marshall and a four-point play by Curry gave Duke a bit of life. Free throw woes prevented the Blue Devils from getting too close, however -- Curry missed the front end of a one-and-one, then Mason Plumlee did the same. Another Rivers' 3-pointers helped Duke cut into the UNC lead, but only so much. Heading to the under-8:00 break, the score was still 71-62 UNC.

Score: Duke 9 (1.29), UNC 6 (1.00)
Boxing Score: Duke 10-9

Round Nine

In the game's first 31:40, North Carolina made 16-of-19 free throws. In the last 7:20, they made 5-of-11. Marshall made one of two with 7:20 left to extend the Tar Heels' lead back to 12 points (74-62), then Barnes missed the front end of another one-and-one. At this point, Duke went to their bigs. The Blue Devils missed all three 3-pointers they took in this "round," but they pulled in three offensive rebounds, Ryan Kelly made four freebies, and Mason Plumlee scored on a putback. An odd 3-point play (Barnes makes a free throw, misses the second, and an offensive rebound leads to a James McAdoo dunk) allowed the Heels to keep some space on the scoreboard, but the cracks were beginning to show.

Score: Duke 8 (1.14), UNC 8 (1.14)
Boxing Score: 10-10

Round Ten

In boxing terms, Duke entered the tenth round needing a knockout. They had scored just 30 points in 30 possessions in the second half, and they somehow had to make up a ten-point deficit (80-70) in 2:38. Like Missouri against Kansas on Saturday night (down eight with two minutes left), Duke would need some help from its opponent to make up the difference.

  • UNC: Harrison Barnes makes one of two free throws, Mason Plumlee grabs the miss.
  • Duke: Austin Rivers makes a jumper (80-72, 3:10).
  • UNC: Barnes makes a jumper with three seconds left on the shot clock (82-72, 2:38).
  • Duke: John Henson blocks a Ryan Kelly 3-pointer out of bounds (2:19), but Tyler Thornton makes a three of his own (82-75, 2:09).
  • UNC: Kendall Marshall turns the ball over (1:52).
  • Duke: Seth Curry makes a 3-pointer (82-78, 1:48).
  • UNC: Barnes turns the ball over (1:23).
  • Duke: Ryan Kelly misses a 3-pointer, grabs the rebound, scores on a putback (82-80, 1:10).
  • UNC: Mason Plumlee fouls Tyler Zeller with nine seconds left on the shot clock. Zeller makes one of two free throws (83-80, 0:44).
  • Duke: Kelly "makes" a jumper when his airball gets tipped in by Zeller, who was trying to prevent an easy offensive rebound by one of the Plumlees) (83-82, 0:14).
  • UNC: Thornton fouls Zeller with 14 seconds left. Zeller makes one of two free throws (84-82, 0:14), Mason Plumlee grabs the rebound.
  • Duke: You know the rest.

The final tally for Round 10:
Points: Duke 15, UNC 5
Points Per Possession: Duke 2.50, UNC 0.83
Rebounds: Duke 3, UNC 0
Turnovers: UNC 2, Duke 0
FTs: UNC 3-for-6, Duke 0-for-0
FGs: Duke 6-for-8, UNC 1-for-1
3-Pointers: Duke 3-for-5, UNC 0-for-0

That's a knockout.

Score: Duke 15 (2.50), UNC 5 (0.83)
Boxing Score: Duke TKO

In all, you could break this "fight" out into four sections:
Rounds 1-3: Duke 29, UNC 25
Rounds 4-6: UNC 29, Duke 15
Rounds 7-9: Duke 26, UNC 25
Round 10: Duke 15, UNC 5

The Carolina defense made so many plays in the middle portion of the game, but the Heels' inability to generate consistent offense down the stretch opened the door for the late-game silliness and, in the end, converted Zeller from the game's most valuable player to the game's goat. The ability to stomp on the throat (or, since we're talking boxing, land the knockout blow) is a key trait in basketball, and UNC did not possess it last night. Rivers and Duke deserve credit for their incredible late-game heroics, but it was North Carolina's fault for letting them off the ropes in the first place.

Last Night's Questions

It is probably worth it to spend a few words answer the questions I had heading into last night.

1. Will The Shots Fall For Duke? Absolutely.

2. Can Baylor Do Anything To Slow Down Kansas? Yes. For 11 minutes. Baylor led the Jayhawks, 19-9, with nine minutes left in the first half. And then, a few minutes later, Kansas went on a 32-4 run. Last year, Baylor earned the "punch them in the mouth, and they might fold" reputation. Last night, to say the least, they furthered that.

3. Can The Georgetown Defense Keep It Up? Yes. The Hoyas allowed just 64 points on 63 possessions against Syracuse, but they couldn't generate quite enough offense to pull out a win in the Carrier Dome and eventually fell in overtime. Still, it was a fantastic effort from one of the country's best defensive teams.

4. Does Momentum Continue In Morgantown? Yes. Notre Dame came to town with a four-game winning streak, while West Virginia had lost three of four and looked unimpressive in their only win. Timing is everything, and Notre Dame escaped Morgantown with their win streak in tact after a 55-51 victory.

5. Can Arkansas Win On The Road? No. Very, very much no. They got their doors blown off, 81-59, by a mediocre-at-best Georgia team in Athens, and they are, for now, very much on the outside looking in when it comes to an NCAA Tournament bid. Mike Anderson teams have now lost 20 of their last 26 true road games. Yuck.

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