For the first time since Roy Williams became a head coach, his team lost on Senior Night.
This was a nightmare game from the very beginning. It was a convergence of Duke playing as well as they possibly could in the opening minutes and UNC coming out tight then panicked went things turned sour early. Throw in some questionable calls/no-calls not going UNC's way and the recipe for disaster was mixed and baking in the oven by the first TV timeout.
Duke opened up making their first six shots and staked a 14-0 lead. UNC has had its issues with slow starts. They went down 12-0 to Virginia Tech at home, just to name one, but righted the ship and ultimately won the game. However, since the lineup changed the slower starts have not been as prevalent. The team had played with great poise and confidence in six straight wins, weathering hostile road environments and playing some of its best basketball in the Dean Dome. That and UNC performance on February 13th versus Duke(not to mention history of Tar Heel success in the 2nd regular season game) suggested this was a game UNC could and would win. That is until Duke went shock-and-awe in the first half and UNC could never quite recovered.
It should be noted that there is a tendency to make a game like this about what UNC did and didn't do. While there is room for that type of criticism, it is utterly stupid to suggest Duke didn't have a great deal to do with how UNC played. First and foremost, the Blue Devils were ridiculously hot from all over the court and not because UNC played poor defense. There were some breakdowns but for the most part, UNC did what every Tar Heel fan screams about every game which was defend the three. Duke ended the game 5-15 from three. UNC stayed home on the shooters and with that Duke took what UNC gave them which was scoring inside the arc. Couple that with Duke's 25% TO rate, I would argue UNC did what it set out to do on defense, Duke simply burned the Heels with what was available.
As for UNC's part in all of this, no one played well. James Michael McAdoo had 15 points but it was clear his back is a serious issue since he settled for jumpers and was ineffective on the boards. P.J. Hairston had 14 points and three steals but along with Reggie Bullock could not buy a three. The Heels went 1-14 from the perimeter which is probably the only other thing you need to know about this game. This is a team that lives or dies by the three(more or less) and tonight it died in spectacular fashion. Some of that stems from UNC going into panic mode and forcing some awful shots. Some of that is Duke's defense which was hell bent on making sure most of UNC's three point looks were either contested or just plain unavailable.
While it certainly sucks to lose to Duke and to lose on Senior Night, there is something to be said for knowing the postseason awaits. UNC still has games to play and should the Heels get by FSU or Clemson next Friday night, a third shot at Duke could await them in Greensboro. While this loss may cause people to think the group has regressed or the six game winning streak was a house of built on sand, the way UNC played and won those games says otherwise. This is still a very capable team but one that has zero margin of error. It is a team that needs to hit threes, force turnovers and get transition baskets. When those things don't happen or the offense gets stuck, the game can degenerate fairly quickly..
Assuming this was not a confidence destroying loss and McAdoo is not in worse shape than anyone is willing to admit, there is hope this team can make a dent in March. There has always been a ceiling for this team that is probably the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. UNC was picked 3rd in the ACC during the preseason and that is where they ended up. Looking at the schedule, there isn't one loss except the one to Texas that should have surprised anyone. Some were shocking in how poorly they went but heading into the ACC Tournament, this season, from a results standpoint, is pretty much where everyone thought it would be.