The last week of February usually has both North Carolina and Duke playing their best basketball in advance of the ACC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.
Not this year. Just one month after both schools lost at home on the same day, January 27, for the first time since 1973, both schools started the final week of the regular season with home losses. On January 27, North Carolina State went into Chapel Hill and emerged with a 95-91 overtime victory. A few hours later, Virginia edged Duke, 65-63 at Cameron Indoor.
This week, Virginia Tech squeaked by fifth-ranked Duke at home, 64-63, and Miami shocked ninth-ranked North Carolina in Chapel Hill, 91-88.
Duke again failed to close out a close game. The Blue Devils led Virginia Tech the entire second half, until the final minute anyway. A Chris Clarke offensive rebound and tip with four seconds left gave the Hokies the upset victory and likely earned them a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Duke had been playing its best basketball of the campaign, winning five straight heading into the game against Virginia Tech. Late turnovers cost the Blue Devils, as three turnovers in the last two minutes helped turn a five point lead into a loss. The Grayson Allen experiment at point guard did not work against the Hokies as he committed six of the team’s 18 turnovers.
Duke needs to avoid close games come tournament time. The Blue Devils are now 1-5 in games decided by two possessions or less.
Many Tar Heels fans may have had horror flashbacks to the team’s loss in the 2016 title game to Villanova. The ending was eerily similar. UNC senior, Joel Berry, on senior night by the way, tied the contest up with a three pointer seconds before Miami senior Ja’Quan Newton hit a deep buzzer-beating three of his own to pull off the upset. The game-winner had to be considered unlikely as Newton’s three point dagger was just his fifth three pointer of the season.
The result actually helps the ACC as a conference as the Hurricanes are likely NCAA Tournament bound now with their 21-8 record.
North Carolina (22-8, 11-6), was led by Berry who tallied a game-high 31 points in his final game at the Dean Dome. UNC’s loss was its first and only defeat of February. On Saturday, the Heels head over to Durham, North Carolina to take on Duke in their regular-season finale.
The loser of this rivalry game will head into the ACC Tournament with a two-game losing streak. Again, another rarity.