Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final trip to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, as coach of the Blue Devils couldn’t have gone much better. No. 9 Duke jumped out to a quick 23-point advantage and never allowed North Carolina back within single-digits in an 87-67 win.
Duke freshman AJ Griffin scored a career-high 27 points, including the first 10 points of the second half as the Blue Devils pushed an 11-point halftime edge to 21 points, blowing away any thoughts of a Tar Heel comeback. Paolo Banchero didn’t shoot the ball well but finished with a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. And guard Wendell Moore Jr. did a little bit of everything with 13 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals.
Brady Manek scored 21 points to lead North Carolina, making 6-of-10 3-pointers.
Duke (19-3, 9-2 ACC) leads the ACC by a half-game over a 9-3 Notre Dame team. The Blue Devils have a quick turnaround, hosting Virginia on Monday. North Carolina (16-7, 8-4) travels to Clemson on Tuesday.
The two teams will meet again in their season finale: March 5 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham.
AJ Griffin looks every bit the lottery pick
Banchero gets the credit as the potential No. 1 pick in this summer’s NBA Draft. But on a night where he shot 5-for-14 and scored five first-half points, the Blue Devils were never really tested because Griffin was so lethal, scoring a career-best 27 and shooting 11-of-17 from the field. Those 27 points topped the 22 he scored against Wake Forest and Louisville, respectively.
A renowned shooter out of Archbishop Stepinac in New York, Griffin was limited early this season with an injury. But he’s since become an indispensable part of a team that Duke hopes can send Krzyzewski home with another national championship. He’s made exactly 50% of his 3-pointers this season, but he’s been particularly deadly of late, averaging 20.7 points per game and making 9-of-13 3-pointers over the Blue Devils’ last three games.
With Griffin splitting time between the three in big lineups and the four in smaller groupings, he’s a tough matchup, and his feathery touch elevates Duke’s March Madness potential.
A late Trevor Keels renaissance
Speaking of freshmen, Duke’s victory could help Trevor Keels re-find his mojo. Keels exploded onto the scene with 25 points in Duke’s Champions Classic win over Kentucky, and with his attacking nature crammed into a linebacker-sized frame, he was a popular favorite to slide into early season mock draft lotteries.
But Keels had scored double-digit points while also making better than 40% from the field just once since the calendar flipped to 2022, 11 points on nine shots at Wake Forest on Jan. 12. Since then, he missed three games with injury, and in his return contest at Notre Dame, Keels played 26 minutes and scored three points on 1-for-8 shooting.
But with North Carolina pressing the ball to try and find room for a comeback, Keels looked confident in pulling from the outside, scoring 11 points while making 3-of-4 shots from behind the 3-point arc. He also added three rebounds, two assists and a steal.
If Duke can add Keels back to its deep and versatile group of scoring options, the Blue Devils get that much better.
Brady Manek among North Carolina’s bright spots
There weren’t many positives for a North Carolina team that has gotten bludgeoned by the last three teams the Tar Heels have played ranked in KenPom’s top 25: a 17-point defeat to Tennessee, a 29-point thumping at the hands of Kentucky and Saturday night’s 20-point loss.
But Brady Manek’s shooting would qualify as a plus. He’s kept North Carolina alive with a 15-point first half, and with a 21-point outing, he’s now scored at least 17 points in each of the Tar Heels’ last three games.
North Carolina coach Hubert Davis discussed before the season even started how the addition of Manek through the transfer portal could help spread the court for post threat Armando Bacot and allow Tar Heel guards to get a piece of the paint. And while those other parts didn’t necessarily play out against Duke, Manek’s continued threat from the outside can only help North Carolina find offensive success moving forward.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism