Duke 85 UNC 84

Now 0-5 under Roy Williams when the Duke game is in Chapel Hill first.

I really don't know what to say. For 38 minutes the game unfolded about like you would expect. Duke was hot early but UNC pushed back, took control of the game at the end of the first half and played really well throughout the second half with the only problem being the inability to push the lead out beyond the 8-13 point range. Tyler Zeller was stating a case for ACC player of the year in the first half with 19 points and 8 rebounds while Harrison Barnes struggled a bit on both ends. In the second half Kendall Marshall and Harrison Barnes took turns taking it to Duke and the Heels extended out to double digits where it would stay most of the second half. At one point we got the Harrison Barnes vs Austin Rivers back-and-forth you wanted to see. UNC was ahead but every time the Heels tried to push it past that point where maybe Duke could not effectively rallied, they couldn't.

Unfortunately that didn't happen. With two minutes to go and a ten point lead UNC decided to relive the 2007 NCAA regional final versus Georgetown. The sequence went something like this:

Thornton hits a three.

Marshall turns the ball over leading to a Seth Curry three(nevermind he took four steps before the shot and it wasn't called)

With the lead down to four, UNC calls timeout, gets Zeller in the game but Barnes goes isolation drives the lane and gets called for a charge despite having Zeller on the left block wide open.

Ryan Kelly then misses a three but follows up and grabs the offensive rebound then hits the jumper to make it a two point game.

Zeller is fouled and makes one of two leading to the most bizarre play I have ever seen.  Kelly shoots a three that comes up short and Zeller, who looked like he was being pushed in the back by Mason Plumlee actually tips the ball into the basket making it a one point game.

Zeller is fouled on the inbounds and makes one, misses the second setting up the final play.

Rivers comes down gets a screen which Zeller switches on but instead of stepping out when the clock wound down he gave Rivers enough space to hoist a three and win the game.

That is just a bizarre sequence. That is the anti-2005 finish and what makes this rivalry great. It hurts like heck right now and with FSU having lost at Boston College, UNC was in a position to assume control of the ACC and its own destiny going forward. All of that disappeared in two minutes of game time when UNC was simply unable to change the outcome of just one play to preserve the win.

This team is an enigma. There is a lot to love about them and the really annoying part is we saw those positives on display for most of this game. At the same time there are things like perimeter defense and a seeming inability to get over the hump at critical moments.  Last season this group pulled out their share of tough games. During this season the opposite seems to be true. The Kentucky and Duke games have seen this team simply not be able to make the right play at the right time to secure the win. I am not sure we necessarily cast blame on anyone for that, sometimes the plays get made and sometimes they don't. In both of those losses it was the opposing team making the right play at the right time.

How does this bode for the "dream and goals," as Roy likes to call them, this team has? There are questions but everyone has questions, yes even Kentucky. Winning the NCAA tournament is still about the bracket and matchups a team faces.  As  I said above, there is a lot to love about this team but just enough off to have games like this happen. The full and complete effort has been elusive for this team but that doesn't mean it won't show up in March.

As for how Dexter Strickland would have impacted this game, the guarding of Rivers is obvious. However I would argue that is a small part of it. For weeks I listened to UNC fans talking about how much  Bullock's offense would help UNC. Now, I would hope, we all understand why Roy used Strickland and Bullock the way he did. In this game Bullock, hailed as the great offensive booster, was nonexistent on that end of the floor. Why? Because not having Strickland put the full burden of being the team's perimeter defensive stopper on Bullock which ultimately hurt his offense. When Strickland was a starter he brought great perimeter defense and more offense than people give him credit for. Bullock was then able to come off the bench and focus primarily on his offense even though his defense was also very good. The luxury UNC enjoyed in having both was P.J. Hairston was not being asked to play big minutes on defense like he did versus Duke leading to multiple made threes.

It will be interesting to see where UNC goes from here. Not holding serve at home versus Duke puts the Heels facing a tough stretch of games where they cannot afford to lose again.

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