Three Things: Duke 73, UNC 68
Carolina fell to 6-5 in ACC play Wednesday evening with a 73-68 loss in Durham. Carolina jumped out to an early lead, thanks in part to good shot selection, some simple making of shots, and good movement defensively. The Tar Heels led by as many as 10 (28-18 at 6:43 first half) but were unable to weather the Duke run that you just knew was coming. Here are a quick few things: one positive, two negative, and a bonus fourth thing, from the loss.
Carolina crashed the boards with ferocity on the offensive end. The Tar Heels hauled in 18 offensive rebounds to just 11 for the Blue Devils. And guards - Bullock, Paige, Hairston and McDonald - grabbed 12 of those. Unofficially, they got 21 second-chance points. Carolina gave up some size with Hairston starting for Desmond Hubert, but P.J. contributed in a big way, with his scoring ability combined with his nose for the ball off the rim.
After a Leslie McDonald jumper pushed the lead to 30-22 with 4:28 to play in the first half, Carolina got just three points, a J.P. Tokoto free throw and a P.J. Hairston layup, the rest of the period. That drought continued into the second. With the Tar Heels up 38-31, an 11-3 Duke run, including a pair of three-pointers, gave them the lead for good.
Then, there was a four game-minute stretch in the second half when no one scored. Mason Plumlee made it 52-47 Duke at 11:37 in the second, and he made it 54-47 at 7:37. In that stretch, the Tar Heels were 0-5 with a pair of turnovers. With the Blue Devils not scoring, that would have been a good time for the Tar Heels to claw back into the game.
Carolina came into Wednesday's game shooting 65 percent from the free throw line. The Tar Heels shot 13 of 23 from the stripe on Wednesday. If they'd shot their season average, that's two more made free throws. From 6:41 to 2:00 to play in the second half, with Carolina desperately needing points with the clock stopped, the Tar Heels missed six straight (one of them the front of a one-and-one). The Blue Devil lead crept from three to eight in that time. As for the Blue Devils, Seth Curry missed the first of two free throws at the 17:01 mark. He made the second, and Duke didn't miss from the line again. The home team went 13-14 from the line in the second half and 17-20 for the game.
P.J. gets the start
It's a smaller lineup, sure, but starting P.J. Hairston paid immediate dividends. He had a spectacular line, with 23 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal and two blocks. Hairston makes things happen.
There are no moral victories, and Carolina left Durham with a loss. But the effort was there, and the Tar Heels competed against a good team in a tough environment. It's a tough stretch from here on out, starting with Virginia visiting Saturday. There are seven regular season games left, and the Tar Heels need to bring the same effort the rest of the way.
"I hope they realized how much they invested, and the results were better," Roy Williams said after the game.