It wasn't about effort, want to or any other inane notions people like to come up with. It was a UNC team which simply struggles to execute offensively at times falling prey to a good offensive team that the Tar Heels couldn't string together stops against when it counted. The result was Duke's third straight win over UNC, an 84-77 victory on Senior Night.
The game was high energy from the start and Duke was the aggressor out of the gate opening up an 18-8 lead five minutes into the game. The Tar Heels responded fueled by an emotional Brice Johnson who scored 11 points in the first half. UNC reeled off a 12-0 run to turn a 24-18 deficit into a 30-24 lead and led by 33-31 at the break. The problem for the Tar Heels is failing to take advantage of a poor offensive half for the Blue Devils. Duke, a team that normally hits the 120s in offensive efficiency, was below 100 and shot 33% in the first half. It stands to reason that wouldn't continue as the game unfolded.
During Duke's first half drought with extended several minutes and UNC had troubles of its own shooting just not quite to the same degree. The result was UNC not building a larger margin going into the second half which ended up being an issue. Still the Tar Heels managed to move out to a seven point advantage twice. The second of those seven point advantages came off a Marcus Paige three with 14:40 left.
From there it Duke's highly efficiency offense took over while the Tar Heels' offensive execution repeatedly failed. The Blue Devils went on a 14-2 run to turn UNC's seven point lead into a five point edge. The Heels pulled back within one three times over the next three minutes before back-to-back threes from Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook gave the Blue Devils a nine point lead.
Facing a three possession deficit proved to be a mountain too tall for the Tar Heels given there were few answers to be had for Duke's offensive juggernaut led by the combination of Cook and Jones. The Tar Heels ultimately found some offensive footing but it was too little too late. Eleven second half turnovers for UNC was the team's undoing against a Blue Devil squad with plenty of firepower to make the Tar Heels pay.
Marcus Paige, who struggled in the first game against Duke, showed up for this contest and looked very much like the 2014 version of himself. Paige scored 23 points going 6-10 from the floor and 5-9 from three. He also dished out 5 assists. Brice Johnson scored 17 points and pulled down 7 rebounds while Justin Jackson scored 14. J.P. Tokoto added 10 points but committed four turnovers and along with Paige's three miscues did enough damage to UNC's overall efficiency to give Duke some space. UNC ended up shooting 58% in the second half but Duke did also on five more shots and a decisive eight point advantage in made free throws.
UNC finished the regular season 21-10 and will be the #5 seed in the ACC Tournament thanks to Louisville's win over Virginia earlier in the day. The Heels will face the winner of the Boston College-Georgia Tech game on Wednesday afternoon and continue to face a bigger question of what this team's overall identity this season.