Shortly following Duke’s 82-50 decimation of North Carolina on Saturday, injured Tar Heel big man Ed Davis tweeted a single word: “Unreal.” Unfortunately for Ed, Roy Williams and the silenced legions of sissy blue, the game was very real. And it was beautiful.
Dan Shulman noted in the ESPN broadcast that the game was a 2 hour party for the Cameron Crazies. We had a lot to celebrate: senior night for Jon, Brian and Lance, a share of the ACC Championship, recruits watching in the stands, and so much more. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get started.
A Fond Farewell on Senior Night
I think a lot of people teared up as Jon Scheyer was introduced before the game. For four years, Jon has been a consummate leader at Duke. An uncommonly intelligent player, Jon always has his game under control and is able to make the right decision. The fact that he was recruited as a shooting guard and is now a finalist for the Cousy Award, which honors the nation’s best point guard, speaks for itself. Jon is an extension of the coaching staff, a true team captain, and should be an All-American this season. I love the guy and wish Duke could keep him forever.
On Saturday night, Jon made his statement for ACC Player of the Year, finishing with 20 points and 7 assists (all of the helpers came in the first half). When he came out in the final minutes, his parents were emotional, particularly his mother. They are fan favorites and come to nearly every game. After three years of home losses to UNC, I’m glad the team gave Jim and Laury something to cheer for.
Lance and Brian played fewer minutes than Jon—with 16 and 20 respectively—but each made his presence felt. Zoubek is making me so sad; his play in the second half of the season has been such an improvement over the rest of his career. He had 8 points and 13 boards, and even had a little Dream Shake and jump hook on the baseline. Lance contributed two points and six rebounds before fouling out with about six minutes left to a rousing “LT! LT!” chant from the student section. His tough D, which earned him a spot on the All-ACC defensive squad, was once again stellar (although, what UNC player did he really have to shut down?) Lance may have the regal tattoo, but both he and Zoubs were Kings of New Jersey Saturday night.
In our ACC preview of the Tar Heels, we figured that it would be a race between UNC and Duke for the regular season title. Well, we were right about Duke at least. The victory put us at 13-3 and tied with Maryland for another regular season championship, our 12th. Although it’s tough to share anything—especially with the insane Turtle nation—it’s always good to hang a deserved banner.
Once again, the three (All-ACC) S’s led Duke to victory; Nolan, Kyle and Jon scored 65 combined points. So essentially, K could have thrown them out there with two mannequins and they would’ve beat the defenseless Holes by 15. (Also, Duke could have gone scoreless in the second half and still won 53-50.) Nolan crossed so many people that I lost count. In the first half, he left Larry Drew cemented to the floor and drove for a thunderous dunk. Kyle had 19 in the first half alone and was beating UNC by himself for several minutes. The Big Three came to play, and UNC was left cowering on the bench.
Having three legitimate 20 point scorers is a luxury that could translate to more postseason success. And as Coach K has repeatedly stated, even at the expense of a certain Chronicle sportswriter, our stars are not tiring out—and their continued dominance proves it. Earth, Wind and Scheyer (copyright!) will lead us deep into March.
With UNC’s season becoming more disastrous every game—even more so than Haiti, per Roy—attentive basketball fans have started to doubt Williams’ ability as a strategist. The guy can definitely recruit and is a great salesman of the powder blue program. And he has one great system predicated upon speedy point guards and forwards who can get up and down the floor. But this year, UNC has neither of these things. And Roy simply hasn’t adjusted.
Nor he has been particularly supportive of his players in this difficult season, a point this blog has made several times. Coach K, on the other hand, is still one of the game’s best in-game coaches and motivators. Early in the first half against UNC, he ripped into the Plumlee brothers for a poor defensive effort. After replacing them with Z and Lance, Coach K turned and told Miles and Mason—’that’s how you get a rebound!’ When Miles returned to the floor, he made a fantastic defensive play, stealing the ball and advancing it to Scheyer in transition. K rewarded him with more playing time. Miles came through again late in the game, when he flushed Duke’s final two points off a perfect alley-oop pass from Nolan. He nearly tore the rim off on that one—see the pictures for evidence.
The thing to take away from this exchange—no matter how ordinary it seems—is the way K uses anger and frustration to motivate his players. Instead of throwing them under the bus as Roy does, Coach K rewards his players for improvement and celebrates it with them when they perform better. Miles had a lot to say on this point after the game: see the video from WRAL here.
The Future Meets the Present
Several recruits and committed players witnessed our embarrassment of UNC. In addition to 2010 commits Kyrie Irving and Josh Hairston, several players visited to get a better look at Duke’s program. ’10 forward Michael Haynes, ’11 wing Michael Gbinjie and ’12 shooting guard Shabazz Muhammad took in the action from behind Duke’s bench. The latter two are both top 10 players in their classes, and Michael Haynes may be another option for next year along with JuCo recruit Carrick Felix. It’s too early to offer any judgments on our chances with Gbinjie or Muhammad, but Duke’s dominance surely made an impression.
Kyrie Irving, along with his St. Patrick’s classmate and Twitter stalwart blank908, had a great time in the first row. Irving and Hairston jumped up several times during exciting plays and cheered like mad. You can tell that these guys are itching to get to Duke next year and join this team. Kyrie had this to say after the game: “Hard to say goodbye…but I’ll be back in the summer…” We can’t wait to see what Irving, Hairston and Thornton bring to next year’s team, which has an opportunity to be one of Duke’s best in several years.
Tough Weekend for John Henson
John Henson was easily the best player on the floor for Carolina on Saturday night, finishing with 14 points on 5-10 shooting, including some improbable buckets in the post. However, Henson was the Crazies’ primary object of scorn, drawing catcalls like “Eat A Hamburger” and “Gumby! Gumby!” Nor did John improve his lot with his attitude; after dunking in the general vicinity of Miles Plumlee, Henson got a little too pumped up and talked trash while running back up the court. Perhaps he didn’t realize his team was still down by 30 points. Roy quickly pulled him out of the game and Henson was left looking like a sad version of Lil’ Twist from Young Money. (thanks to “bmorecity_bear” for the spot-on comparison).
But the weekend got worse for Henson, in a way. His sister Amber, a top-5 recruit in the class of 2011, committed to Joanne P. McCallie and the Duke Women’s basketball program on Sunday. Amber had considered joining her brother in Chapel Hill, but Duke’s medical program was too attractive. (Yes! Academic superiority is paying off!) Henson conceded his ‘defeat’ in having Amber choose Duke on his already legendary Twitter. I don’t mind him coming to “dook” to watch his sister, but I hope Cameron is always hostile to him when he suits up.
John Henson promises to be one of North Carolina’s better players for the years that he stays in Chapel Hill. Hopefully his sister is just as talented and can lead Duke Women’s basketball to its elusive first national championship to go with the conference tourney title they won on Sunday. What a great few days for Duke fans, and what an awful stretch for Gumby.
With all the joy following this weekend, it might seem alluring to curl up and watch the game replay over and over again on ESPN360. But as the seniors vehemently said in post-game speeches, this season is far from over. Duke has the tools to accomplish a lot more this year—an ACC tournament title, a number one seed, and a run at the Final Four.
And for once, I am more optimistic in March than in January. I can’t wait to see how high this team can fly.
Crazie-Talk was present for some serious pyromaniacs on Saturday night as benches burned on West Campus. One guy even tried to climb up on one of them! We do not suggest that, even if it was hilarious to see his buddies pull him off (“No, man, that’s a huge fire, not a jungle gym.”)
Check C-T later this week for our review of the ACC Tournament! Go Duke, and may UNC always lose by 30+.
Here’s a little video from the end of the game. Enjoy.