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Duke 92 UNC 90 (OT)

The Tar Heels hold a double digit lead inside of four minutes but are unable to close the deal as Duke pulls out the 92-90 win in overtime.

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It was another chapter in the best rivalry in college basketball and yet another chapter in UNC's 2015 season of being unable to close out big wins when afforded the opportunity.

Out of the gate it certainly didn't look like it was heading for a back and forth finish. The Blue Devils came out red hot with Quinn Cook lighting up the building from three. The pace was frenetic, maybe a little too much for UNC. Tar Heel players were noticeably out of sorts on the offensive end with far too many rushed shots and no offensive rebounds off misses. The offensive struggles and UNC's defense from the Pitt game making an appearance again helped Duke take a 20-8 lead barely six minutes into the game.

While Duke looked like they might run away with the game, UNC got some big minutes from the second unit. Joel James came off the bench and proved to be effective in slowing down Jahlil Okafor, at least to a degree. James also scored six first half points. Jame along with a resurgent J.P Tokoto, kept the Tar Heels from getting completely run out of the building. Despite UNC's best efforts, Duke's ball movement continued to eviscerate the Tar Heel defense. Even after Okafor left the game with a leg injury, Duke's offense hummed along building a 13 point lead with 2:18 left.

UNC responded thank in large part to Tokoto and the play on the interior. Over the final two minutes of the half and six minutes into the second, UNC reeled of a 21-4 run to take a four point lead. That sequence included a Tokoto reverse dunk which secured UNC its first lead of the game. Kennedy Meeks was critical during the early second half run, having his way against a hobbled Okafor. The game settled into a back and forth affair before a late Tar Heel push on a three by Joel Berry and back-to-back layups from Nate Britt put the Heels up 77-67 with 3:51 left and with 2:23 left the Heels led by nine after a Tokoto jumper.

At this point the game became a question of whether this team could figure out how to close out a big win? Not so much as it turns out. Obviously Duke was proficient enough offensively to make a run at UNC late and the Blue Devils did just that relying heavily on Tyus Jones. UNC ran into free throw issues late with Nate Britt missing the front end of a one-and-one with UNC up five with 1:21 left. Brice Johnson made a pair of free throws to restored the five point lead but missed the front end of a one-and-one on the next possession to open the door for Duke to tie the game. Tyus Jones obliged and UNC failed to get a basket on the last shot to send the game to overtime.

Despite the foreboding that UNC would be in deep trouble in the extra period, the Tar Heels held up quite well as the game proceeded in nip and tuck fashion. The game essentially hinged on which team would blink first and it was the Tar Heels which executed poorly on two straight possessions after Duke took an 90-89 lead with 1:41 left. Those possessions ended with Britt and Tokoto taking less than ideal shots. UNC last gasp down two and Britt at the line came up short as Paige got his hands on the intentional free throw miss. Justise Winslow's arm across Paige face may or may not have had something to do with the Tar Heel guard's ability to get a clean shot up.

The end result is UNC being saddled with another loss in a game the Tar Heels could have won and certainly played well enough for most of the contest. Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson combined for 36 points and 19 rebounds or exactly what UNC needs from the interior. J.P. Tokoto snapped out of his slump to play possibly his best game of the season with 15 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. UNC got big minutes from Britt who scored 11 points and Isaiah Hicks who had 12 to give UNC five players in double figures.

Marcus Paige's line is the real story. UNC got the production it needed from even facet of the offense except the preseason All-American. Justin Jackson played tentatively but Britt more than made up for his struggles. On a night UNC had some many pieces working from the post play to the transition game which effectively wore Duke down, Paige scored just 5 points on 2-11 shooting.

Such is the frustration with this team. UNC is clearly good enough to go toe-to-toe on the road with Louisville and Duke. At no point has it ever been a question regarding the quality of the talent or the ability of this team. Effort and intensity have certainly been discussed but more than that overall execution is off just enough that UNC often can't get that one basket or stop.

Simply put, this team needs to learn how to win which is sometimes a part of core group's evolution(see 2007). At some point they should figure it out but until that happens it is unclear just how many of these crushing losses one group of players and their head coach can take.