Rivers' Shot Caps Duke Rally: Wednesday Recap

February 9th, 2012

There have been some thrilling comebacks in the history of the Duke/North Carolina rivalry, but surprisingly there haven't been many games that have been decided at the buzzer. Wednesday night's game in Chapel Hill wasn't a case of "down eight with 17 seconds to go" as it was in meetings in 1974 (UNC with the comeback and win) and 1995 (Duke with the comeback but UNC ended up winning), but with the Tar Heels up ten (80-70) with 3:35 remaining one would expect them to win.

But missed free throws and botched possessions late left the door slightly ajar, and the Blue Devils would take advantage as Austin Rivers' three from the right wing as time expired gave Duke the 85-84 win. Rivers was Duke's best offensive player as he scored 29 points, but even with his numbers the many critics were sharpening their knives with the expectation being that North Carolina would close the game out. Rivers and company would prevent that by outscoring UNC 15-4 over the final 3:35, resulting in a three-way tie atop the ACC. 

"They made the right plays and we didn't. I mean, it's just that simple," said UNC wing Harrison Barnes, who scored 19 of his 25 points in the second half. "You've got to give credit where credit is due, and they played a great game." 

Rivers is the focus on any night for the Blue Devils for the simple fact that he is Duke's most talented perimeter player, and the key for the Blue Devils down the road is that the freshman uses his talent to not only get his points but also get others involved. Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry scored 15 points apiece and Tyler Thornton knocked down a critical three during the final run, displaying a confidence one wouldn't expect from a player who'd gone 0-for-5 from deep to that point in the contest. 

Barnes had a bit of a roller coaster game, as he was quiet in the first half only to get rolling in the first ten minutes of the second and then fade into the background down the stretch. Tyler Zeller (23 points, 11 rebounds) played well throughout but will be remembered more for the missed free throws and the fateful switch that resulted in him guarding Rivers on the final sequence, and John Henson (12 points, 17 rebounds) posted a double-double as well. If anything the contest was a mixture of North Carolina not taking care of business and Duke refusing to quit. And with a player like Austin Rivers at your disposal anything is possible. 

"Austin was magnificent. We had a play set for a three, a different three, if they hit both free throws," said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. "But when they missed the second, we wanted to go to a quick angle and he could either take it to the basket or he shot it, and he shot it and it was all net."  

Other Notable Happenings 

1. Kansas goes on a 34-6 run spanning both halves to soundly defeat Baylor in Waco.
Jeff Withey proved to be a problem for Baylor in the first meeting between the two teams as he finished two blocked shots short of a triple double, and that was also the case on Wednesday night in Waco. Withey scored 17 of his 25 points in the first half to help Kansas navigate the half despite Thomas Robinson being in foul trouble. The Jayhawks' run reached the point to where they led by 20 points, and they never relinquished control in the 68-54 victory.

Tyshawn Taylor added 19 points and Robinson scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for Kansas, who is tied with Missouri atop the Big 12 standings. The Jayhawks hit Baylor in the mouth and the Bears didn't respond well at all, with the game getting to the point where it's fair to wonder whether or not Scott Drew's team has the mettle required to make a run in March. The Bears have a great deal of talent but when Perry Jones III accounts for just five points and a player who burned them the first time does so again, it's difficult to expect the Bears to be a national title hopeful at this point. 

2. Kris Joseph scores 29 points to lead Syracuse past Georgetown in overtime.
There were people who truly wondered how Georgetown would be able to hang with #2 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, seeming to forget the fact that the Hoyas had the system and the personnel to give the Orange some trouble. That's exactly what happened as Georgetown grabbed 23 offensive rebounds and out-rebounded to Orange 52-35, making up for their poor shooting. But it wasn't enough to leave with a win at Kris Joseph scored 29 points ot lead Syracuse to the 64-61 win.

Joseph and Fab Melo (11 points, seven rebounds and six blocks) were the only Syracuse players to score in double figures on a night that saw their guards struggle and the other frontcourt players used weren't much better. But that was countered by the struggles of Georgetown's Henry Sims, who shot 1-for-12 from the field in scoring six points, somewhat negating the impact he had as a distributor from the high post. Syracuse had the one player on the floor who didn't seem to have any issues finding good looks in crunch time in Joseph, and that ultimately was the difference on a night that saw them get whipped on the glass. 

3. Arkansas leaves the Fayetteville and promptly gets blown out by Georgia.
There's a reason why so many were hesitant to give the Razorbacks that NCAA tournament "stamp of approval" after their win over Vanderbilt. The Hogs entered Wednesday's game at Georgia 0-6 in true road games and it was easy to see why by halftime with the Bulldogs taking a 43-24 lead into the break. Arkansas shot 26.1% from the field in the first half and where soundly whipped on the glass by a count of 25-10 (eight offensive rebounds for the Bulldogs), ending up in a hole that was too big to climb out of in an 81-59 defeat.

Gerald Robinson Jr. went just about wherever he wanted to, finishing with 27 points, six rebounds and five assists, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope chipped in with 18 and five rebounds. Arkansas has shot better than 40% from the field just once in seven road games this season, and that's a big reason why they haven't won on the road. Not sure what the missing spark is for the Razorbacks but they'd better figure out how to get things going away from Bud Walton Arena before it lands them in the NIT. 

Quick Hitters

1. David Kyles scored 16 points off the bench and Toure' Murry led four players in double figures with 21 points as Wichita State took sole possession of first place in the MVC with an 82-57 win over Northern Iowa. Gregg Marshall's Shockers have the look of a team that can do some serious damage come March, and a win at Creighton on Saturday would give them a two-game lead. 

2. Florida State's offensive execution down the stretch reverted to its pre-seven game win streak form in Chestnut Hill, and the end result was a 64-60 loss to Boston College. Jordan Daniels scored 21 points and dished out five assists to lead the Eagles, who snapped a six-game losing streak. Florida State is now part of a three-way tie for first in the ACC. 

3. Cody Ellis scored 20 points and grabbed four rebounds off the bench to lead Saint Louis to a 72-60 win at Saint Joseph's, keeping them tied with Xavier in second place in the Atlantic 10 a game behind Temple (who came back from 15 down to beat George Washington) in the loss column. Rick Majerus has a solid eight-man rotation on which to rely, and he's one of the best in America at putting together a game plan.  

4. Two possible conference champions to keep an eye on come March remained undefeated in league play with road wins on Wednesday night. UT Arlington moved to 10-0 in the Southland with a 75-63 win at Sam Houston State and Bucknell took care of Colgate 66-50 to move to 9-0 in the Patriot League. In LaMarcus Reed III (UT Arlington) and Mike Muscala (Bucknell) these two teams feature players currently on the short list for Player of the Year in their respective leagues. 

5. Southern Miss did themselves no favors on the road as they fell 71-61 at UAB. The Golden Eagles simply did not have an answer for Cameron Moore, who accounted for 27 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots. Southern Miss is now tied with Memphis (7-2) atop the Conference USA standings and UCF (7-3) is just a game back in the loss column due to their win over Marshall. 

6. In a matchup of the top two teams in the NEC it was LIU Brooklyn who came out victorious as they beat borough rival St. Francis (NY) 81-71 at Madsion Square Garden. Jamal Olasewere (21 points, 11 rebounds) and Julian Boyd (17 points, 11 rebounds) both posted double-doubles and C.J. Garner scored 19 points to lead the Blackbirds. They play again on Saturday, and a Terrier win could be the only thing that keeps Jim Ferry's squad from winning the regular season title as LIU has already swept second-place Wagner. 

7. Form held in the CAA as the top four teams all won, widening the gap between themselves and the rest of the league. In most season that would essentially guarantee the conference cashing in to the tune of multiple NCAA tournament berths, but due to the league's profile and team's non-conference resumes that may not be the case this season. George Mason, VCU and Drezel are all 12-2 in league play while Old Dominion is a game out at 11-3. 

8. In two other Big East results worth mentioning, Pittsburgh saw their run of success ended in Tampa as they shot just 34.6% from the field in a 63-51 loss at USF. Hugh Robertson led three Bulls in double figures with 18 points and Ashton Gibbs shot just 2-for-9 from the field and scored four points. And Jordan Theodore scored 24 points to lead Seton Hall past Rutgers 59-54, meaning that the senior will finish his career with a 4-0 mark on the floor of the Pirates' in-state rival. 

Three Notable Performances

1. F Cameron Moore (UAB)
27 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots in the Blazers' 71-61 win over Southern Miss.

2. F Kris Joseph (Syracuse)
29 points, five rebounds and three steals in the Orange's 64-61 overtime win over Georgetown.

3. G Austin Rivers (Duke)
29 points, five rebounds and two steals and the game-winning three as time expired in the Blue Devils' 85-84 win at North Carolina.