College Hoops Player of the Day for Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Nobody could say for certain, but some people at Cameron Indoor Stadium thought they saw the faint utline of a large, red "S" under Nolan Smith's jersey in the second half of Duke's comeback, 79-73, win over North Carolina.
The Duke senior, with some help from a red-hot Seth Curry, carried the Blue Devils from a 14-point half time deficit to ultimate victory over their main ACC rival. Duke had been outrun, out-rebounded and outplayed in the first half, as the Tar Heels blitzed the home team for a 43-29 lead.
But when the teams took the court in the second half, something surely had changed. The Blue Devils ground into North Carolina's lead, outscoring them 25-11 to tie the game at 54-all. Curry contributed a flurry of seven points in less than a minute during the run and Smith tallied 22 of his career high 34 points in the second stanza. Curry finished with a season-high 22 points.
Smith hit 13 of his 23 shots, and was nearly perfect in the second half after a rough start. He tossed in three of six three-pointers and added five free throws to surpass his previous career high of 33 set a month ago against UAB.
The #5 Blue Devils opened a 1 1/2 game lead on North Carolina in the watered-down ACC. Duke is 22-2 overall and 9-1 in the conference. North Carolina, which returned to the Top 25 this week at #20, is 7-2, followed by 6-3 Florida State, Clemson at 6-4 and Maryland and Virginia Tech, both at 5-4.
The Tar Heels will not forget Smith and the tale of two halves in their encounter when they next tackle the Blue Devils in the final game of the regular season for both squads, March 5, at Chapel Hill.
NOTABLE: The Big East continues to appear as the best top-to-bottom conference, as three games from Wednesday night pointed up the contentious nature of the nation's largest conference. #8 Notre Dame had to go to overtime to knock off #16 Louisville, 89-79, for their 6th straight win. In Syracuse, the Georgetown Hoyas hammered the Orange down the stretch, outscoring them 9-1 in the final 3:47 for a 64-56 victory, the Hoyas' 7th straight after a 1-4 start in conference play.
Outside Trenton, NJ, lowly Rutgers (4-8, Big East) took out #9 Villanova, 77-76 and unranked Marquette rallied from 16 points down to overtake South Florida, 59-58, on the Bulls' home court.
There are eight Big East teams represented in the Top 25, and the conference is expected to send at least that many to the NCAA tourney in March. #4 Pitt leads the conference standings with a 10-1 record.