CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) – Harrison Ingram saw his teammate’s shot go up, then the ball bouncing off the back of the rim and clipping the glass as it headed toward a Duke rebounder.
No way he was letting that happen.
Instead, North Carolina’s versatile 6-foot-7 forward batted at the ball to keep it alive, then tipped it back to bounce off the feet of Duke’s Tyrese Proctor then dove to the floor to beat Proctor to the ball. He quickly flung it back toward midcourt, keeping alive a possession that ended with UNC whipping the ball around for Cormac Ryan’s critical 3-pointer.
It was the second-half play that summarized everything about Ingram’s effort as the third-ranked Tar Heels beat the seventh-ranked Blue Devils 93-84 on Saturday night. It was the highlight-reel moment, borne entirely of effort, on a night where he made his impact felt all over the court in his first Duke-UNC matchup.
“He was terrific, he was hitting shots, rebounding, playing with energy,” Ryan said. “Just like he does. That’s exactly what we needed in a game like this.”
The Stanford transfer finished with a season-high 21 points and 13 rebounds while tying his career high with four steals. His work teaming with veteran big man Armando Bacot was critical considering Duke’s defensive focus on ACC leading scorer RJ Davis.
Simply put, UNC needed this from Ingram. And man, did he respond in front of a crowd painted with the lighter shade of blue and roaring at ear-ringing levels.
This was the best-case scenario for the Tar Heels when Ingram arrived as part of an offseason roster overhaul, adding a rangy forward strong enough to bang with post players but mobile enough to chase on the perimeter. He was averaging 10.5 points coming in, but it was his board work that had stood out as the Tar Heels surged to the top of the ACC standings.
He came in averaging a league-best 11.5 rebounds in league games, including 19 at North Carolina State in the most ever by a UNC player in that long-running rivalry.
Yet to listen to him basking in victory Saturday night, this effort came as much out of frustration as confidence. The Tar Heels were coming off Tuesday night’s one-point loss at Georgia Tech that ended a 10-game winning streak, and Ingram missed 11 of his 14 shots to offset a 13-rebound night.
Ingram was obsessed with what went wrong and how he didn’t come through for his team.
“I watched the Georgia Tech game probably like five different times,” Ingram said. “I feel like at the beginning of the game, I’m the guy who brings energy and I didn’t bring it that game. I wasn’t going to come out here and let that happen again. So I came out with as much energy as I could, got my 10 hours of sleep last night, and I was ready to go.”
Ingram made 8 of 12 shots, including five 3-pointers that proved vital with Davis (21.5 points per game) having to work for any daylight against steady attention from an elite defender in Proctor, a veteran guard in Jeremy Roach and sometimes a bigger defender on switches in Mark Mitchell.
One of those 3s came from the corner in front of the UNC bench with Roach within breath’s reach. The ball swished through the net, sending Ingram running back on defense with a look toward the UNC bench and then locking by his side in something approaching a flex.
The play that secured the loose rebound came with roughly 6 minutes left, with freshman Elliot Cadeau having to catch Ingram’s heave from flat on his back in the paint near halfcourt. Cadeau sent a pass to the left wing to Davis, who immediately zipped the ball to Ryan in the corner on a tic-tac-toe sequence for a clean look at the 3 and ultimately a 77-64 lead.
“That was an amazing play by Ingram,” said ESPN game announcer Jay Bilas, a former Duke player.
It also encapsulated one of the main frustrations for Duke coach Jon Scheyer afterward.
“The main story for me was the loose balls,” he said. “As you look throughout the game, they were hungrier to get them. And it turned into … I bet close to 15, maybe even 20 points.”
Fittingly, the game ended with Ingram chasing down the final rebound on Jared McCain’s missed 3-pointer with victory in hand. Ingram pitched the ball softly ahead toward Seth Trimble as time expired and the roaring celebration began.
Not bad for a first taste of the rivalry.
“I don’t even know what’s going on,” Ingram said with a smile. “I’m still blacked out right now. I was on the court having a good time.”