Duke goes ice cold after building 11-point edge
The sharp shooting that has carried Duke to so many highlights this season deserted the No. 5 Blue Devils when it mattered most Thursday night.
The Blue Devils struggled against North Carolina’s switching defenses, making just 35.5 percent of their second-half shots.
What had been an 11-point Duke lead with 15 minutes to play slowly melted away and the Tar Heels beat Duke 74-66 at the Smith Center.
“We didn’t have life,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “No matter what we did in a time out we just didn’t have that spark, the anger, the emotion, the thing you have to have to match what their crowd and their team is doing. You have to counter that. I just felt we didn’t have the life that we needed to have. They deserved to win.”
After shooting 50 percent in the first half to lead 37-30 at the break, Duke hit 5 of its first 7 shots of the second half, including a pair of 3-pointers, to take a 49-40 lead.
UNC guard Marcus Paige, who missed his only three shots of the first half, scored layups on drives against Duke’s half-court defense on consecutive UNC possessions.
Rodney Hood and Quinn Cook each drilled 3-pointers for Duke before Jabari Parker, who scored 17 points, scored on a drive and a layin to give the Blue Devils their first double-digit lead at 51-40 with 15:07 left.
But just when it appeared Duke (21-6, 10-4 in ACC) was ready to pull away, the Blue Devils offense entered a deep freeze with a nine-minute field goal drought.
Three missed Duke shots in a row, including jumpers from Hood and Jabari Parker, allowed J.P. Tokoto’s rebound slam dunk to leave Duke with a 53-49 lead with 10:27 left.
Missed layups by Jefferson and Parker, both contested, helped push Duke’s slump to 13 missed shots in a row.
“You can’t miss layups, inside stuff, free throws,” Krzyzewski said. “You have to put high percentage shots in. We didn’t do that and that gives the other team even more incentive. They played a lot better than we did in the second half.”
UNC mixed zone defense with its man-to-man and Duke remained unable to mount another charge on offense.
“This is a tough one to swallow,” Hood said. “When they went zone I think we had shots there, but they went off the rim and out and a little bit short. Stuff like that.”
Cook finally ended the ugly stretch for Duke, driving to hit a bank shot high off the board with 6:25 left. Hood scored again in the lane and Cook drained a 3-pointer to give Duke a 60-56 lead with 4:56 to play.
But McDonald sank two free throws and, after Cook missed a 3-pointer, McAdoo scored inside to finally tie the score at 60.
After Cook, who scored 17 points, missed the front end of a 1-and-bonus, UNC’s Leslie McDonald sank a 16-foot jumper to put the Tar Heels up 62-60 – their first lead of the second half.
The Tar Heels never trailed again as they made 50 percent of their second-half shots to turn the tables on the Blue Devils.
“We just let our offense dictate our defense,” Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon said. “We gave them a lot of easy shots. It was our fault. We didn’t lay good defense and we didn’t fight in the second half. They deserved to win that game.”
The loss marked a return to a couple of troubling things that the Blue Devils appeared to have erased while winning nine of their last 10 games.
In January ACC losses at Notre Dame and Clemson, Duke squandered similar second-half leads.
The Blue Devils led by 10 points in the second half at Notre Dame, only to lose 79-77 on Jan. 4. At Clemson on Jan. 11, Duke saw a nine-point lead disappear in a 72-59 loss.
“We just had a let down tonight,” said Hood, who scored 11 of his 16 points in the first half against UNC. “It’s just one night. We reverted back to some of our old ways. But we have to get back in there (Friday) get some rest and get ready for Saturday.”
The Blue Devils have less than 48 hours to get over the loss. No. 1 Syracuse comes to Cameron Indoor Stadium for a showdown Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN).