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Duke takes down UNC in ACC semis

By
Everett Merrill, The Sports Xchange
Duke's Luke Kennard. (Duke Men's Basketball/Instagram)
Duke's Luke Kennard. (Duke Men's Basketball/Instagram)

NEW YORK -- The potential weariness of playing three games in three days this late in the season didn't stop No. 14 Duke from staging a dramatic second-half comeback against No. 6 and top-seeded North Carolina in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament on Friday.

The fifth-seeded Blue Devils played a flawless second half on the way to toppling the Tar Heels 93-83. Duke trailed by as many as 13 points and seven at the half before outscoring their rivals 51-34 in the second half. Duke shot 59 percent in the second half, making the Tar Heels look as though they were the ones playing three games in as many days.

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Duke (26-8) will attempt what no team in this tournament has accomplished -- winning four straight games in four days for the championship -- when they meet the winner of Friday's other semifinal between Notre Dame and Florida State on Saturday at the Barclays Center.

"Our guys are in really good shape," remarked Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. "I was actually amazed today because Carolina really comes at you. They not only came at us offensively, they were playing outstanding defense, really good pressure. So, it could have worn us out, and it didn't.

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"We've cut down on practice time and physical stuff, and they want to win. We have good athletes. So they respond well, and we'll see tomorrow. Tomorrow, that's four in a row, and we'll play -- whatever it is will be really good. And we won't see anything like that in the NCAA Tournament. So this is very unusual."

Jayson Tatum's dunk with 13 minutes to go ignited a 20-4 Duke run that the Tar Heels never recovered from.

He paced Duke with 24 points and Luke Kennard scored 20, 15 coming in the second half. The duo was a combined 17 for 17 from the line. Grayson Allen chipped in with 18 points, going 5 of 6 from beyond the arc.

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Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks led the Tar Heels (27-7) with 19 points each.

Duke will be searching for its 20th ACC Tournament title and 14th under Krzyzewski.

This was only the fifth time the schools have met outside of their home state. They played in Atlanta in 1929, 1989 and in 2001, and in New York City in 1971.

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The Blue Devils made five of their last five shots and 11 of their 12 free throws in the last 1:45. Duke was 33 of 37 from the line. Carolina was 14 of 18.

The Tar Heels made just 2 of their final 13 shots.

Nate Britt's conventional three-point play tied it at 70 for the Tar Heels, but a layup from Frank Jackson, a 3-pointer from Kennard and a dunk from Harry Giles pushed the Duke lead to 77-70 with 5:30 remaining.

Kennard's two free throws tied it at 63-63 at the 10:21 mark and freshman guard Frank Jackson's 3-pointer moments later gave Duke its first lead, 66-65, of the game. A Tar Heels turnover led to a 3-pointer from Kennard for a 68-65 cushion for the Blue Devils.

A 13-2 burst in the span of 2:43 brought the Blue Devils back to within 63-61 with 10:56 to play. The sequence was highlighted by a four-point play from Kennard, who was fouled while sinking a 3-pointer from the corner.

"I think our offense stopped moving," said Tar Heels coach Roy Williams. "They (Duke) picked us up a little bit in the backcourt. We wasted some time in the backcourt getting it down. We really did stop moving. When we had shots -- I remember a couple of them, I think we rushed them a little bit, forced them a little bit.

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"We shot 56 percent in the first half and 28 in the second half. We shoot 28 percent in the second half, they shoot 59 percent because they got better movement, better screens, better shots than we did."

Except for 32 seconds when the score was tied, North Carolina maintained a first half lead that reached as high as 13 points.

The Tar Heels shot a sizzling 55.6 percent in the first half, outscoring their rivals 32-10 in the paint

Allen drilled three straight 3-pointers to pull Duke to 23-22 with 8:49 left in the half, then North Carolina went on a 12-1 rampage to forge ahead 35-23, their biggest lead to that point.

Meeks established position in the post early on, scoring 10 of the Tar Heels first 12 points in six minutes.

NOTES: This was the 245 meeting between the two schools. North Carolina leads the series, 135-110. ... North Carolina and Duke have accounted for 37 of the 63 ACC Tournament championships. ... Either Duke or North Carolina has played in the NCAA Final Four in 24 of the last 35 years. ... Duke G Luke Kennard ranks third in the ACC with an average of 35.8 minutes per game. He leads the ACC in scoring, averaging 20.2 points.

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