There was no questioning Carolina's intensity tonight.
UNC came out fired up and played Duke even for 35 minutes but faded down the stretch in dropping a 64-54 slugfest with the 8th-ranked Blue Devils. It was a bizarre game in that Duke shot 50% from three but only 25% inside the arc, while UNC racked up 12 blocked shots but ended up getting out-rebounded by a thick and physical Duke front line.
It was an ugly game offensively as both teams really showed effort on the defensive end. Duke's "big three" guards Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith scored 53 of the team's 64 points but only went 18-52 from the field. The Tar Heels placed three in double figures, as Will Graves had 13, Larry Drew had 11, and Deon Thompson added 10 points.
Throughout the game, Duke's bigs consistently out-rebounded and out-hustled UNC's post players, and while the Heels were blocking shots, the Devils were getting second chance points. Duke ended up with an amazing 19 offensive rebounds and out-paced the Heels 44-40 on the boards. Carolina's post players Thompson, Ed Davis, and John Henson, combined for only 20 points and 16 rebounds on 7-19 shooting inside. Davis and Henson in particular seemed far more interested in blocking shots than rebounding.
As for guard play, Larry Drew II was hot and cold. He had 11 points but took 15 shots and had 4 assists to two turnovers. He made some heady plays (like at the end of the first half) and some great passes in transition, but he had his share of head-scratchers, too. Dan Bonner, in a rare case of lucid analysis, pointed out that Drew rarely attacks the rim and so defenses play the pass; I would add that sometimes when he does pass he throws bullets from 3 feet away that cannot be handled. Marcus Ginyard played his heart out and dove after loose balls and hit a couple of key shots. His detractors will point to this missed assignment or that point at which he was scored on, but he guarded Scheyer most of the game and held one of the leading ACC player-of-the-year candidates to 7-20 shooting, and to Ginyard's credit, the last two threes Scheyer made were with Ginyard dead in his face. Dexter Strickland completely stunk up the gym, sadly, playing out of control, getting cooked on defense, and contributing little to the team effort.
On the plus side, Carolina got back much more effectively on defense, not allowing Duke to get out and run. And despite the scoring numbers, UNC's perimeter defense was much improved, as evidenced by the shooting percentages.
For the third straight game, Carolina suffered a game-ending run that cost them a chance to win the game. After giving up an 18-8 ending to Virginia Tech and 38-20 to Maryland, UNC went nearly five minutes without a field goal late in the game as part of a 25-11 Duke run to close out this one.
In the end, this game will do little to change your opinion of this team. If you think the season is done for, you can point to the poor decisions, terrible inside play, and lack of offense to back you up. If you think there is still hope, you can point to the defensive effort, transition game, and knowing that for 37 minutes the team was in a position to win against a top-10 team.
Still, moral victories mean absolutely nothing and the Heels will have to get it together to host NC State this weekend. Both teams will be in desperate need of a win and the game could be just as intense as tonight's game.