Duke climbs back from 13-point deficit to win season tie-breaker with Heels

Tatum, Kennard combine for 44 points in comeback win for Blue Devils

Brad Penner—USA Today Sports
Duke Blue Devils forward Jayson Tatum (0) dunks over North Carolina Tar Heels forward Kennedy Meeks (3) during the second half of an ACC Conference Tournament game at Barclays Center.

BROOKLYN — It took nearly 31 minutes for Duke to take the lead over North Carolina in the rubber match. But when the Blue Devils finally had the advantage, they didn’t relinquish it.Frank Jackson hit a 3-pointer at the 9:02 mark to give Duke its first lead of the game. It also happened to signify the only lead change of the entire game. So was the moment a huge one for the freshman? Not even in his third Duke-UNC matchup.”I was open and I shot it,” Jackson said. “[Luke] hit me and I was able to knock it down. … We’ve played in a lot of big-time games already. We came here to play basketball, regardless of the stage. We’re used to this. We’re just playing ball.”The Blue Devils trailed by 13 points at 61-48 with 13:53 remaining in the second half before the turnaround started. UNC barely mustered any offense after that point, allowing Duke to go on a 20-4 run that quickly turned into 38-14 to bury the Heels and clinch a berth to the ACC Tournament Final with a 93-83 victory in Brooklyn.That run was started by a massive dunk from Jayson Tatum to put the game within 11 points. Tatum also came away with a defensive rebound, steal and assist in the next two minutes to help the Devils claw their way back to the lead.That dunk was followed by a timeout by Mike Krzyzewski based on a feeling about the direction the game was heading.”Yes, to throw water in their faces and slap them,” Krzyzewski said. ” I didn’t really. Verbally slap them. No, we were getting ready to get knocked out. Sometimes games are not won always at the end. They’re won at certain periods of time, and if you can win those periods of time by your feel, as many games as you’re in, that’s what I try to do.”Tatum has now scored 20 or more points in his first three ACC Tournament games in Brooklyn, something even the best one-and-dones to come through Durham haven’t accomplished. Jabari Parker averaged more than 20 points in three games, but Tatum has topped him in his trio of games in Brooklyn.The Tar Heels looked like the better team for much of the first half. UNC owned Duke inside in the first half, outscoring the Blue Devils 32-10 in the paint. Duke would narrow the margin in the second, but UNC still came away with a 50-26 advantage.However, when Kennedy Meeks sat on the bench for a large portion of the second half after scoring 15 points in the first half, the momentum shifted. While he was great in spurts during the first 20 minutes, Roy Williams said sitting him was more about saving him than anything else.”Kennedy’s performance goes down drastically once he gets winded,” Williams said. “His stamina is not as good as we would like for it to be. We’ve held him out of a bunch of practices because of a sore knee, but he’s come to play. …”For us, it’s the way we’re trying to milk as much time of him as we can, knowing that we had hoped to play three straight nights, and that’s just the way we’ve done it all year.”Despite heading into the ACC Tournament as the favorite by many, the Heels simply ran out of gas near the end of the game. Meanwhile, the Devils looked the part of the world beaters they were perceived at when the season started with outstanding games from nearly every freshman, including Harry Giles — who came away with a block followed on the other end by a huge dunk.Duke heads to the ACC Tournament final for the first time since the 2014 season and is looking for its first tournament title since 2011. After two comebacks of 12 points or more in consecutive games, the Devils are ready for any obstacle on Saturday.”Trying to win four games in four days in the ACC is extremely tough,” Tatum said. “But we’re honored. We’re going to play a great team tomorrow, whether it’s Notre Dame or Florida State. We’re looking forward to it.”