Duke guard Grayson Allen, middle right, knocks the ball away from UNC forward Theo Pinson, middle left, on March 4, 2017. Chuck Liddy cliddy@newsobserver.com
Duke guard Grayson Allen, middle right, knocks the ball away from UNC forward Theo Pinson, middle left, on March 4, 2017. Chuck Liddy cliddy@newsobserver.com

Duke

The three things Duke has to do to beat North Carolina tonight

By Jonathan M. Alexander

jalexander@newsobserver.com

February 08, 2018 02:09 PM

CHAPEL HILL

For Duke, its matchup against rival North Carolina Thursday is a must-win game. The same goes for UNC too.

Duke lost to St. John’s 81-77 on Feb. 3 at Madison Square Garden, and afterward, coach Mike Krzyzewski called out his players for their lack of effort. The stage in New York was big, and it’ll be again in Chapel Hill.

In order for No. 9 Duke to beat No. 21 UNC, though, it can’t play like it did against St. John’s.

Here are three things Duke has to do to beat UNC.

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1. Take care of the basketball

Turnovers have been one of Duke’s biggest issues this season. Duke had 18 against St. John’s, one shy of a season-high. Duke freshmen forward Marvin Bagley III and guard Trevon Duval combined for 10 of those 18 turnovers.

The more turnovers a team commits, the less shots they have at the basket. Many of Duke’s turnovers have also been unforced. Duke is averaging more than 15 turnovers over its last six games.

“You can’t win at a really high level doing that,” Krzyzewski said. “I don’t know why, but I do know it is. So we have to stop it, and we’re working on it.”

2. Player better defense

Duke’s defense during the month of January was its best all season. The Blue Devils seemed to be turning a corner, but took a step back against St. John’s. There was a lack of communication, and Krzyzewski said the players were playing like five individuals instead of a team the first 32 minutes of the game.

None of the players had an excuse or could explain why they played the way they did. But they know, that they can’t play that way against UNC night.

3. Get Grayson Allen some open shots

Duke senior guard Grayson Allen has thrived when playing against the Tar Heels. During the seven games he has played against them, he has average 16.8 points per game. That includes a freshman season in which he did not play very often and came off the bench. Allen is 5-2 against the Tar Heels.

Since his sophomore year, Allen has had a 14-point game, an 18-point game, a 23-point game, a 25-point game and a 29-point game against UNC.

Allen is undoubtedly a premier scorer. His 37-point game against Michigan State on Nov. 14 is proof. And Duke needs him to shoot like that Thursday.

He took only seven shots against St. John’s and didn’t hit one until the final minute of the game. At times he’s had to take on the play-maker role when Duval has struggled.

When asked about his reduced number of shots, Allen said, “A lot of times it’s just the flow of the game. I try not to assert my own shot as much as in previous years because of the talent that we have on offense.”

Allen said he thinks Duke can get a great shot every time the team goes down court.

“It’s not just me being passive, but me trying to get us into a flow on offense of getting a great shot every time down the court, moving the ball around, finding the open man,” he said. “Ball reversal and everything like that, I’m just trying to facilitate that and really get all five guys involved.”

Jonathan M. Alexander: 919-829-4822, @jonmalexander

No. 9 Duke at No. 21 UNC

When: 8 p.m., Thursday

Where: Smith Center, Chapel Hill

TV/radio: ESPN, WRAZ, 106.1-WTKK, 99.3-WDNC