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Duke 74 UNC 73: Offensive Failure

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

UNC let one get away and in doing so made life for itself in the ACC harder than it needs to be. Here is what happened.

It Wasn't the Defense

This isn't that difficult.

Coming into the game Duke had an offensive efficiency of 121.9, a 3PA% of 39.0 and hitting 39.2% from three. During this game Duke had an OE of 107.2, a 3PA% of 29.2 and hit 36% from three. UNC also held Duke to an ORB% of 28.2. Duke's free throw rate was just 24.2 down from a season average of 42.1 and the Blue Devils shot 41.5% for the game, 37.9% in the second half going just 3-10 from three point range.

If you have told me before the game, UNC's defense would hold Duke to these numbers my assumption would be the Tar Heels win the game. As was the case at Notre Dame, UNC finds new and inventive ways to claim victory on the stat sheet but lose the game . That was certainly the case here from a defensive perspective. Duke came in with a powerhouse offense and the Tar Heels did what it needed to do to keep in largely in check.

The problem arose when UNC failed to grabbed complete control of the game thanks to far too many empty possessions. The various instances where UNC failed to extend the lead came back to bite the Tar Heels in the end. Once it become a single possession affair, Duke could exploit the match-up advantages which they did getting 11 of their final 14 points from the duo of Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram. Even then, UNC did a solid job defending some of the shots the pair made but it was a case of the offensive player being better than the defender .

The defense wasn't the problem.

The Offense Was the Problem

To be more specific, the offense from the guards was the problem. Brice Johnson had another ACC Player of the Year caliber game. He scored at will for 30 minutes and control the boards. He end the game one point and one rebound away from becoming the second player in UNC history to go for 30 and 20 twice in the same season putting his name next to Billy Cunningham.

Yet with 11 minutes left, UNC began settling for jump shots and failed to get the ball into the post even though Duke center Marshall Plumlee had four fouls. Instead it was a series of missed jumpers from Marcus Paige and Joel Berry who combined to go 4-22. Berry hit just one three in three attempts while Paige missed all six of his shots from beyond the arc. For the game UNC went 1-13 from three. Justin Jackson played well but was also not a factor offensively in the second half with just two points.

As much as the last play will be talked about or the failure to get the ball into Brice Johnson more will be debated, UNC still needs its perimeter players to hit shots. While you can try and feed Johnson every time, the lack of a perimeter threat makes feeding the post a tougher task. As the game wore on, it became clear Duke could sell out to stop Johnson from getting the ball because the odds Paige or Berry or even Jackson would beat them from outside shrank the longer the game went on.

Ultimately UNC's lack of offensive balance did it in. UNC is 19-1 when Berry scores 10+ points and 21-0 if he scores 11. If Paige and Berry combine to hit just 36% of their shots with a couple of those shots being threes, UNC's win probability goes way up.

The bottom line is on a night UNC got everything it needed from Brice Johnson, the perimeter players disappeared again and the loss was costly.

The Final Play and Coaching in General

The game should have never come down to the final play. This is where there is some defense for Roy Williams in that the players, especially Paige and Berry, didn't hit the shots they needed to hit. Some of those were shot selection issues and others outright misses of good, open looks. There were also turnovers, not very many mind you with UNC's TO% at just 14.7. However Duke took advantage of those miscues, especially in the second half where the Blue Devils had an 9-0 edge in points of turnovers.  UNC's lack of second half offensive production aside from one player and the turnovers let Duke hang around with the Blue Devils making just enough plays to snag the win.

All that being said, there is a coaching question here on two levels. One was UNC continued to be out of sorts offensively over the final 11 minutes. The settling for jump shots resulted to some extent from overall execution issues. It also looked very much like there wasn't a concerted effort to enter the ball into the post. In some cases Johnson, Meeks or Hicks were not in position at other times UNC didn't appear to run the offense in such a way as to give the post players a chance to post up. Marcus Paige said they needed to help Johnson but Johnson also needed to work harder to get position.  In the end, UNC went away from what had been successful. While Williams can't be on the floor doing it for his players, a timeout or two at key moments to run a set play wouldn't have been the worst idea in the world.

As for the final play, Williams was right and wrong at the same time. He was correct in letting the play go initially. His philisophy which he got from Dean Smith is to try and catch a team not fully entrenched defensively.  However once it became clear there was nothing available on the first probing of the defense a timeout was in order. The set was clearly broken and leaving Berry on an island to salvage it was wrong decision.

There is much to be frustrated with how UNC handled the final play. For one this is a veteran team that has been through this kind of situation enough to execute better that it did. The other issue is UNC has a player in Marcus Paige with his share of big shots during his career. Some of those include game winners versus Louisville last year and NC State in 2014. While Paige was struggling offensively, it is possible he gets it done with the right kind of execution. Instead it fell on Berry who ended up with a terrible shot.

This game, like the overtime loss in Durham last season and the loss in Chapel Hill in 2012 is full of shoulda, coulda, woulda for the Tar Heels. Brice Johnson said this one would hurt for a long time. Games your team should have won but didn't are like that.