While the second half included a lot more of Smith, who established a new career-high with 34 points, Duke also received 18 points from Seth Curry and out-rebounded UNC 23-20 as they won 79-73. Duke also scored 10 points off of six North Carolina turnovers while the Tar Heels could get nothing from three Blue Devil miscues. Duke remains atop the ACC standings with the victory but the outcome shouldn't take anything away from North Carolina, who found out not just that they can hang with the conference's best (and likely make some noise in March) but also what they need to do in order to ultimately win games like Wednesday night's. Kendall Marshall finished the game with nine points and six assists to just one turnover, but there were times in the second half where the tempo seemed to get away from the Heels a bit. That's something that improves with experience and Nolan Smith is a good example of that.
"in the second half we just settled down and did that and got some great looks and knocked them down," said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. "Again, Nolan and Seth were ... I mean Nolan's performance was off the charts. That was one heck of a performance by that kid."
Henson (14 and 12) and Zeller (24 and 13) both posted double-doubles for the Tar Heels, and while Kyle Singler did shoot just 3-for-17 from the field he isn't going to do that very often. The concern for Duke as the season wears on has to be the play of their three big men: Ryan Kelly and brothers Mason and Miles Plumlee. The trio did finish the game with a combined 25 rebounds with 12 coming in the first half, but things looked to be far too easy for UNC's forwards. While many jumped to cite a "lack" of athleticism following the loss at St. John's, the play of the bangers inside could be what poses a problem for the Blue Devils when it comes to possibly winning a national title. That being said, if Curry can bottle up Wednesday's performance and become a consistent presence offensively (along with Singler and Smith) the Blue Devils will be an even tougher group for anyone to knock off.
"Seth knows he's a very good player, and he knows he can play in this league," said Smith. "And tonight he showed that - on the biggest stage. He showed up tonight, and he played the way we know he can." (quotes courtesy of Duke Athletics)
Other Notable Happenings
1. Georgetown's offensive execution and defense lead them to win at Syracuse.
During their four-game losing streak the issue for Syracuse was their defense, and once they solved that riddle the Orange won consecutive games leading into Wednesday's matchup with rival Georgetown. But in their loss to the Hoyas it was the offensive end of the floor that sealed Syracuse's fate, and Georgetown had something to do with that slip in execution. The Hoyas went on a 9-0 run late and held Syracuse without a field goal for the final six minutes in winning 64-56, the seventh straight conference win for John Thompson III's team after a 1-4 start. Syracuse shot just 39.6% from the field and turned the ball over fourteen times, and with Rick Jackson battling foul trouble the Orange were out-rebounded by nine in the second half. Georgetown did a good job of working the ball into the middle of the zone in the high post and knocking down perimeter shots at a solid clip, but it was ultimately their defense that delivered in the end. And that could be the recipe for Georgetown as the season reaches its climax.
2. Memphis and Texas A&M pick up important road victories.
While the Tigers and Aggies are in different positions in terms of getting to the NCAA Tournament there's no mistaking the fact that their victories on the road mean quite a bit for both. Antonio Barton, who has gone from recruiting throw-in to an integral member of the rotation, knocked down the game-winning three pointer in the final seconds to give Memphis a 63-62 win at UCF. Antonio scored 14 off the bench and was one of four Tigers in double figures as they remained within striking distance of first-place UTEP. As for A&M, they aren't close to Texas in the Big 12 standings but their win over Colorado in overtime was a much-needed result given their recent string of defeats. BJ Holmes was huge late, knocking down a deep three to send the game into overtime and scoring five of his 13 in the extra session. Now 5-4 in conference play, Mark Turgeon's club can go on a run with their next two games against Texas Tech and Iowa State. Neither win will be seen as the one that punches a ticket to the Big Dance but they do keep the Tigers and Aggies in the conversation for the time being. And that's the least you can ask for at this time.
3. Idaho ends Utah State's 17-game win streak.
Don Verlin's first win over his former boss was an important one, as Idaho won their second straight conference game after a four-game skid nullified their best start to league play as a WAC member. It was also a big one for guard Deremy Geiger, who scored 12 in his first game against his former school, helping lead the Vandals to a 64-56 win over Utah State and postponing the Aggies' clinching of the regular season title. Utah State shot just 33.8% from the field, including 5-for-28 from beyond the arc as they lost for the first time since December 4th at Georgetown. But the result is more about what it means to Idaho (a win would do little for the Aggies, who may not be able to bolster their at-large hopes until the meeting with Saint Mary's in the Sears BracketBusters event), whose senior class has yet to do anything of consequence in their careers when it comes to team accomplishments. To finally beat Utah State is something they can build on, and it helps Coach Verlin in selling the growth of his program.
Top Three Games
1. (5) Duke 79, (21) North Carolina 73
2. Rutgers 77, (10) Villanova 76 This may have featured the best ending of the season (unless you're a Villanova fan), with Mike Rice's team refusing to give up despite trailing by 10 with less than four minutes to go. Ultimately a Jonathan Mitchell four-point play gave the Scarlet Knights the win at the RAC. Mitchell led all scorers with 25 while Corey Fisher led the Wildcats with 23.
3. (7) Notre Dame 89, (15) Louisville 79 (OT) The game was tight for much of the night until the Irish scored the first 14 points of the extra session, ultimately defending their home floor by 10. Louisville's Kyle Kuric led all scorers with 28 points while Ben Hansbrough led Notre Dame with 25, and Carleton Scott scored 9 of his 16 in overtime.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Nolan Smith (Duke) Scored 22 of his career-high 34 points in the second half as Duke beat North Carolina 79-73.
2. F Jamie Skeen (VCU) 32 points and 11 rebounds in the Rams' 84-74 double-overtime win at Delaware.
3. F Ken Horton (Central Connecticut State) 23 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks and six steals in the Blue Devils' 71-55 win over Bryant.