One More Look at the Last Two and a Half Minutes...

...and then let us never speak of it again.

With 24 hours to digest what actually transpired in the entire game, as well as the last 2 1/2 minutes that will go down forever in UNC-Duke lore, it is an interesting exercise to evaluate the final portion of the game possession-by-possession to really see the perfect storm of bizarre-ness that allowed Duke to overcome a 10-point deficit and win the game.

So, like breaking down the Zapruder film, let's review what happens after Harrison Barnes' shot at the 2:38 mark puts Carolina up 10 points:

2:19: Ryan Kelly attempts a three and shoots what appears to be an airball, but the officials rule that John Henson tipped the ball and Duke gets the ball out of bounds. You can watch the video below (it's the second play in the sequence) and judge for yourself. Regardless, Duke gets the ball back under their own basket.

2:09: Tyler Thornton - who up to that point was 0-5 from long-range - drills a three to cut UNC's lead to seven.

1:52: After running 17 seconds off the clock, Kendall Marshall throws the ball away and Mason Plumlee comes up with the ball.

1:48: After taking four steps, Seth Curry nails a three in transition.

This is an absolutely huge play and one I think has not received nearly enough discussion in discussing the Duke comeback. If Curry is called for the blatant travel, UNC gets the ball back up 7  - three possessions - and the ability to run the clock for another 20+ seconds, taking the game well inside of 1:30. Instead, Duke is now down only four points.

1:23: Harrison Barnes is called for an offensive foul. While this is a turnover, UNC still ran 25 seconds off the clock and the result is not much different than if Carolina had taken a shot and Duke got the rebound.

1:15: Kelly jacks up another 3 that misses badly, but Henson leaks out rather than boxing out and Kelly gets his own rebound.

1:10: Kelly scores and the lead is cut to two. Duke has made up 8 points in just under one minute.

0:44: UNC again works 26 seconds off the clock and gets the ball to Zeller, who is fouled by Mason Plumlee. Zeller, who is shooting nearly 80% for the season, only makes one of two shots. UNC is up three points.

0:14: After UNC plays good defense for nearly 30 seconds, Kelly jacks up a contested three that appears to be another airball. Plumlee clearly pushes Zeller to the other side of the rim and prevents him from getting at the shot cleanly. The ball bounces off Zeller's hand and into the basket. Take a look at this video and make your own determination of the play:

At this point, Duke has attempted 3s on its last five possessions. Four of the shots were taken by Kelly and Thornton, who were a combined 2-13 from three for the game, and the other was by Curry, whose shot should never have counted. Kelly missed all three shots badly, and yet was bailed out by points all three times (the questionable call on Henson's touching that led to the Thornton three, getting his own rebound, and the Zeller tip-in).

0:12: Duke does a great job of fouling quickly. Zeller heads to the line again and once more an 80% free throw shooter only makes one of two. UNC is now up two.

0:04: After apparently setting the final play to go to Andre Dawkins (wait, what?), Austin Rivers gets the ball off a Plumlee screen. Board monkeys and call-in show coaches have frequently criticized Roy Williams for not switching screens for 3-point shooters. Well, for once UNC switched and Zeller ended up guarding Rivers.

0:01: After reading Zeller guarding him for the drive, Rivers steps back and hits ONIONS (to use the Bill Raftery catchphrase).

Should Zeller have closed out with his hands up? Absolutely. But it is important to remember that UNC was up two points. Most guys in that situation are coached to defend the drive, and force the shooter into a lower-percentage shot. Besides, let's give all due credit to Rivers for stepping up and drilling a huge bucket.

(And as a quick aside, let's put one thing to rest that was making the rounds on Thursday: under no circumstances should UNC have fouled Duke in that situation.  That is something you do when you are up THREE points and the idea is to (potentially) only allow two from the line. UNC was only up TWO points, so why send someone to the line for two higher-percentage, unguarded shots rather than make a guy drain it from 22+ feet away? It just so happens the guy made it.)

So to recap, here's the perfect storm of bizarre that happened in the last 2 1/2 minutes:

  • Duke may have gotten away with a phantom call on Henson that kept a possession alive;
  • A guy who was 0-5 stroked a three-pointer;
  • An egregious travel was not called, allowing for a Duke three;
  • Ryan Kelly took three horrible outside shots and was bailed out with points every time;
  • UNC's best FT shooter went 2-4 from the line;
  • Duke got away with a clear push that may have altered Zeller's play on the ball and led to the bizarre tip-in;
  • UNC had two TOs and no FG attempts in the last 150 seconds;
  • And the hottest outside shooter of the night nailed a huge bucket.

As Chris said in an email to me, if any single one of those plays breaks UNC's way, the outcome of the game is probably changed.

Plus, as Roy Williams said in his post-game comments, none of this happened in a vacuum. Duke made plays and took advantage of the situations presented to them. In no way is this analysis meant to diminish what Duke accomplished in completing the comeback. And no, there is no need to play the "refs were horrible" card, either. Yes, there were 3 huge calls in this time frame that went against UNC, and yet if UNC doesn't turn the ball over or makes 1 more FT, that is irrelevant.

What it does it point out how narrow the margin was in the game, especially for those who are wanting to shovel dirt on Carolina's season based on this one game or who are talking about UNC's or Roy's choke job. It also shows just how many things have to happen for a comeback like this to take place.

Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic made a great point on their ESPN Radio show this morning: this is the beauty of college basketball. If this were college football, we would be lamenting how UNC was eliminated from the national title chase. Instead, we have the opportunity to see these two teams play again in less than a month.

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