In losing to Duke, North Carolina did not play poorly. They shot 52%. Justin Jackson had another big game, going for 21 points. It’s just that the areas where they did play poorly really, really cost them.
Make your free throws
Contrary to what happened against Duke, North Carolina are not a particularly bad free throw shooting team. However, they were Thursday night, and that was massively important.
The Tar Heels went 10-18 from the line. The eight missed shots literally make up the difference in the final score. Even Joel Berry missed two at crucial moments. Coming into this game, UNC was shooting 70% as a team. If they continue around that percentage for the rest of the season, odds are performances like Thursday’s won’t happen again. Unfortunately, they just got cold at the exact wrong time.
Three-point defense will need to be better next time
Allowing 13 three-pointers is not going to do much to help sway fans frustrated about the way UNC plays defense. It should be said that Roy Williams has won a lot of games and wouldn’t have if he were a coach of bad defensive teams. However on Thursday, UNC’s defense hurt them quite a bit.
Duke’s percentage of 48% is a bit higher than what even a good three-point shooting team would go for. However, when they get that many good looks, it’s not surprising. That is going to need to improve not only in the second Duke game, but just in general.
Now is not the time to panic
If you didn’t know the final score and were just told that Isaiah Hicks didn’t play, Duke made 13 three-pointers, UNC made just four, and shot 56% at the free throw line, you would probably think this game was a closer to a blow out. It wasn’t that, and it wasn’t a case of a blown lead, it was a case of Duke punching back and winning the game.
It’s okay to feel frustrated about the way this game went down. It was extremely frustrating. Just don’t conflate that with something being wrong with this team. They may have struggled this season, but this Duke team was the preseason #1 for a reason. UNC will get another shot at them. Be upset about the way the game played out, but just don’t forget that the season is far from over.