UNC perimeter defense key to stopping Duke's deep threats
When No. 8 Duke faces North Carolina at the Smith Center on Wednesday (9 p.m., WRAL/ESPN), the five most accurate 3-point shooters will all be playing for the Blue Devils.
Duke (19-5, 8-3) has the ACC’s top two 3-point shooters among qualifying in Andre Dawkins (47.4 percent) and Rodney Hood (45.0), who combine to attempt 9.5 long-range shots a game. Tyler Thornton (52.6), Rasheed Sulaimon (49.1) and Jabari Parker (36.7) are also shooting better from deep than UNC’s only two 3-point threats, Marcus Paige and Leslie McDonald.
So guarding the perimeter will be key if the Tar Heels (16-7, 6-4) want to snap their two-game home losing streak in the series.
“Doing it against Duke is more difficult than against most people because they have several guys who can shoot it,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “Sometimes you can bother one or two guys because you can help off people and those kinds of things, but it really is difficult against Duke.”
The Tar Heels are fourth in the ACC in 3-point percentage defense (30.9) and have defending the arc well during their five-game winning streak, with opponents shooting 29.7 percent.
In the most recent game Saturday against Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish made their first four 3-pointers and led 19-9, but then missed 17 of their last 19 as UNC took command of the game and won by double digits for the fifth straight time.
“(Against Duke) you have to stay attached when you’re away from the ball,” Williams said. “And the guy on the ball has to do a good job of guarding a man by himself because they get the slightest bit of dribble penetration and you help and they pitch it out and they have four or five guys in the game that can make that shot. … “You have to close out properly with your hands up and expect a drive, but against Duke you also know that you better be expecting a 3-point shot to come quickly.”
Duke has attempted 62 more 3-pointers than any other ACC team and leads the conference by a wide margin in 3-point percentage (42.0 – FSU is second at 37.4).
UNC has had letdowns guarding individual shooters at times this season — Belmont’s J.J. Mann hit three 3-pointers in the final 62 seconds as the Bruins shocked the Tar Heels in November, while Virginia’s Joe Harris started 3 for 3 in the opening minutes of Virginia’s win in Charlottesville last month. Still, the Tar Heels have done a good job shutting down teams overall.
Of course, there is more to shutting down the ACC’s highest-scoring offense than just stopping the 3-point shot. The Blue Devils only shot 11 of 31 (35.4 percent) from behind the arc last season but swept both games in the rivalry as UNC was even worse (18.8 percent from 3, 35.9 percent overall).
“We have to be able to guard the 3-point shot, but at the same time they’re a very balanced team,” Williams said. “They have four or five guys who’ve scored 20 or more in a game this year, so it’s a challenge for us and we know we have to be at the top of our game and we have to score as well because they’re going to score and we have to make sure we do.”