Dynamic duo: Smith, Curry lead Duke

DURHAM, N.C. -- What did Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski learn about sophomore guard Seth Curry in Wednesday night’s 79-73 victory over North Carolina at Cameron Indoor Stadium?

“That he’s pretty damn good,” Krzyzewski said.

Just a week ago, Krzyzewski wasn’t sure if Curry even knew how good he could be in his first season with the Blue Devils after transferring from Liberty University in 2009.

Curry, the younger brother of former Davidson and current Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, was struggling with his confidence and struggling even more to find shots.

“The last two weeks or so, he was really challenging me and telling me to play with some confidence,” Curry said. “He said you’ve got to go out there every night with something to prove and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Curry certainly did it against rival North Carolina on Wednesday night, as he and senior guard Nolan Smith combined to score 56 points, helping the No. 5 Blue Devils erase a 16-point deficit to defeat the No. 21 Tar Heels for the third straight time.

Smith scored a career-high 34 points on 13-for-23 shooting, and Curry scored 22 points off the bench, the highest scoring output in his 24 games with the Blue Devils.

“Seth knows he’s a very good player, and he knows he can play in this league,” Smith said. “Tonight he showed that -- on the biggest stage. He showed up tonight and played the way we know he can.”

After the Blue Devils fell behind by 16 points, Curry and Smith took over the game. Curry made a jumper with seven seconds left in the first half to cut UNC’s lead to 43-29, and then the Blue Devils scored the first eight points of the second half to make it a game again.

“It wasn’t an X's & O's adjustment,” Krzyzewski said. “It was [an adjustment] to calm them down. They were too excited -- nuts is the word. It was like, ‘What are you guys doing?’”

Smith and Curry sparked Duke’s 10-0 run with a pair of 3-pointers. Both 3-pointers came after the Blue Devils grabbed offensive rebounds on missed foul shots.

“I felt he had excellent quickness,” Krzyzewski said of Curry. “The thing he’s learned to do is get his shot off quicker. He was really coming off screens well and went right into his shot.”

Curry’s breakout performance couldn’t have come at a better time for the Blue Devils. Senior Kyle Singler, the team’s second-leading scorer with 18 points per game, labored through one of his most difficult performances of the season against UNC.

With the Tar Heels hounding him on nearly every possession, Singler scored 10 points on 3-for-17 shooting.

“At times during the season, I do stand around and watch Nolan and Kyle,” Curry said. “But coming into tonight, I had to be another punch out there for us. Nolan and I got it going in the second half, and it felt like we were turning everything around.”

UNC coach Roy Williams wasn’t happy with how his team defended Duke’s guards.

“Seth Curry was big, to say the least,” Williams said. “We didn’t give Kyle as many open ones as we gave Seth and Nolan and some of the other guys. We gave them more open shots.”

Much like his older brother, who was also largely overlooked by bigger schools, Seth Curry had to prove he was good enough to play at a school like Duke. After starring at Charlotte Christian School, Curry was named the Big South Freshman of the Year after averaging 20.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists at Liberty in 2008-09.

But doing it at Duke was an entirely different matter. Curry’s open looks weren’t as open and defenders were taller, stronger and faster.

“This is a different league,” Curry said. “You’re not just going to be out there shooting every night. You’ve got to do more than shoot and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

While Curry’s career at Duke is in its infancy, Smith’s is nearing its end. Smith said beating the Tar Heels in his final home game against them was the crowning achievement of his career -- even bigger than winning a national championship last season.

“I’ve watched a lot of Duke-Carolina games and this is definitely one of my favorites,” Smith said. “This is the biggest win of my career. The championship was great, but I’d say my last home game against Carolina was the biggest game. To come back the way we did, it can’t get any better than this.”