Tar Heel grit not enough to stop second-half Devil strength
There are no moral victories when it comes to North Carolina’s rivalry with Duke.
So while the unranked Tar Heels did better than many expected at No. 2 Duke Wednesday night, leading the entire first half and by seven with 17:53 to go, they left bemoaning missed opportunities that kept them from pulling a shocking upset at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The Tar Heels (16-8, 6-5 ACC) shot just 34.3 percent in the second half, including 2 of 11 from long range, and made just 9 of 17 free throws in the 73-68 loss as they failed to become the first unranked UNC team to beat a ranked Duke team since 1990.
“It shows what team we can be, but we have to play like that the whole game, and we didn’t do that,” senior Dexter Strickland said. “Duke is a great second-half team. They’re a great team, period, but they always come back in the second half. And it was important for us to stay aggressive and have that energy that we had in the first half throughout the whole game.”
Sophomore guard P.J. Hairston earned a surprise start and scored a game-high 23 points, matching a career high, to go along with seven offensive rebounds. His two free throws gave UNC its final lead at 43-42 with 13:55 to play, but Duke (22-2, 9-2) finally starting making 3-pointers, and the Tar Heels went almost five minutes without a basket midway through the second half.
When UNC finally started hitting from the field again, it went cold from the line, missing six straight free throws to abort any chance at a comeback.
“I’m extremely disappointed to say the least but I’m not disappointed in the effort of our team,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “The intensity was better than we’ve had all year long, but Duke gets that from everybody.”
After a series of slow starts recently, Williams switched the starting lineup for the first time since conference play began. The Tar Heels went with a smaller starting five, taking out defensive center Desmond Hubert and putting in Hairston, a high-scoring guard.
The move worked as UNC led at the under-16 media timeout for the first time on the road this season and kept that advantage through the first 26 minutes.
In the first half McAdoo played national player of year candidate Mason Plumlee to a draw in the post, while Bullock made all three of his first-half 3-pointers and used his length to frustrate Duke sharpshooter Seth Curry.
UNC continued the momentum into the second half and even started strutting in front of the crowd. McAdoo drove baseline for a reverse dunk and shouted to the crowd as he ran downcourt, and then Bullock waved his arms after drawing an offensive foul on the other end.
But the Tar Heels lost that swagger down the stretch and lost to the Blue Devils for the sixth time in eight meetings.
After being blown out in previous trips to the homes of top teams — UNC lost by a combined 50 points at No. 1 Indiana and No. 3 Miami — the Tar Heels did put up more of a fight. After missing their chance at a marquee win Wednesday, the players will need to bring that same energy to the rest of its schedule in order to improve their postseason standing.
“After the game we said you can’t just get up for the game at Duke, at Cameron. That’s easy to do,” freshman Marcus Paige said. “We understand that we’re in a place right now where we have to get up for every game. No more slow starts. We have to play as hard as we did in the first half tonight, all the time.
“There’s no magic to be able to do it. You just have go out there and do it.”
No. 2 Duke 73, North Carolina 68
Percentages: FG .379, FT .565. 3-Point Goals: 5-18, .278 (Bullock 4-7, Hairston 1-7, Paige 0-1, McDonald 0-3). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 3 (Hairston 2, Paige). Turnovers: 13 (Hairston 3, Strickland 2, Bullock 2, McAdoo 2, Tokoto, Paige, Johnson, McDonald). Steals: 8 (McAdoo 2, Paige 2, Hairston, Strickland, McDonald, Bullock). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .446, FT .850. 3-Point Goals: 6-16, .375 (Thornton 3-4, Curry 2-5, Sulaimon 1-4, Cook 0-3). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 2 (Mas. Plumlee, Curry). Turnovers: 17 (Cook 5, Mas. Plumlee 4, Sulaimon 4, Curry 2, Thornton, Hairston). Steals: 6 (Cook 4, Jefferson, Mas. Plumlee). Technical Fouls: None.
A—9,314. Officials—Karl Hess, Mike Eades, Bryan Kersey.