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Blue Devils finish strong to beat UNC — again

Duke Notebook

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Duke fans love two things more than anything — watching the Blue Devils win and watching North Carolina lose. Last Thursday night, they got to see both at the same time and another thrilling installment in the best rivalry in sports.

In a back-and-forth affair that saw the lead change a whopping 19 times, Duke, ranked No. 18 at the time, was victorious 86-78 over then No. 8 UNC in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Even though Blue Devils post Amile Jefferson had just three points in the game that pitted Duke’s guards and wings against UNC’s post players, Duke relied on 25 points from Grayson Allen, 20 from Luke Kennard and 19 from Jayson Tatum (all of his coming in the second half). Allen’s 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer gave Duke a one-point lead, and it outscored UNC 9-3 over the final 80 seconds.

OWNING UNC OF LATE

The win Thursday night was Duke’s fifth in the last six games of the rivalry and ninth in the last twelve outings, punctuating a period of dominance not seen in recent history in the rivalry for some time. You’d have to go back to the 2005 season when the Blue Devils won their fourth straight and 15th out 18 (starting in 1999) against the Tar Heels to find a similar stretch. UNC hasn’t won more than three in a row against Duke since the mid-1990s.

The fact that head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s group has pulled off this recent run of success against UNC head coach Roy Williams’ veteran unit with a rotating cast of one-and-done freshmen makes the run all that much more impressive.

Even though Coach K missed time this year and last due to health concerns, there are no signs of his time as the Duke coach ending anytime soon. If anything, his short break during January likely reinvigorated the now 70-year-old’s tenure in Durham, which should be more music to Blue Devils’ fans ears.

SURGING AT THE RIGHT TIME

Although Duke, now ranked No. 12, hit its struggles in the middle part of the schedule due to injuries, a tougher schedule and a difficult run of road games, the Blue Devils own the longest current winning streak in the Atlantic Coast Conference at five games and are just a game out of first place heading into a huge game at No. 14 Virginia on Wednesday night. With a win in Charlottesville, Duke would find itself at 9-4 in the conference and tied with Louisville and Florida State for second place with just five games left.

Including Wednesday’s game at Virginia, Duke will finish the season playing four of its last six games away from Cameron Indoor Stadium. Three of those six games come against currently ranked teams, with No. 17 Florida State (home) and No. 10 North Carolina (away) also left on the docket. But the Blue Devils also have to play at Syracuse and Miami, which are just one and two games, respectively, behind Duke in the conference standings.

The other game comes against a Wake Forest team that is much better than its 15-10 record. The Demon Deacons took Duke to the wire in their game Jan. 28 in Winston-Salem, an 85-83 Blue Devils win that required a Herculean effort from Kennard to win it at the buzzer.

Kennard put forth another great effort Saturday, Feb. 11, when he scored 25 points to lead Duke past upset-minded Clemson 64-62 in Cameron. Less than 48 hours after their emotional win over UNC, the Blue Devils nearly let a 14-point lead in the second half get away and had to survive a last-second look by the Tigers’ Shelton Mitchell.

RECRUITING VISITORS

Recruits keep visiting Duke as the meat of the basketball season has fallen on Saturdays for much of February and January, giving the programs perfect setting for entertaining their top targets.

The highest-profile visitor for the UNC game last week was the top-rated point guard in the senior class, Trevon Duval. Duke is the heavy favorite to land Duval, who would be a huge boost to a backcourt next season that could lose Allen and Kennard to the NBA draft in addition to Matt Jones, who will be graduating.

This weekend there are close to 30 unofficial football visitors expected on campus for the Wake Forest game, including 2018 verbal commitments Gunnar Holmberg, a quarterback from Wake Forest Heritage High, and Taiyon Palmer, a defensive back from Lawrenceville, Georgia.

EARLY RECOGNITION

ESPN has released some of its positional previews heading into the 2017 football season and Duke players are getting some love.

Daniel Jones is projected as the No. 4 QB in the conference and the defensive line group is noted as a potential sleeper.

Adam Rowe covers Duke basketball, football and recruiting for 247Sports.com. Check out more of his work at duke.247sports.com.

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