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UNC 78, Duke 86: Tar Heels struggle with free throws and 3-point defense

Well that sucked.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Duke Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

It was a game of missed opportunities for the Tar Heels, who lost 78-86 to Duke in Cameron. Carolina and Duke played close for the majority of the game, however poor execution and missed free throws hurt the Tar Heels down the stretch as Duke finished the game on a 16-7 run.

Carolina shot 52.5% but got out-rebounded 31-30, something that doesn’t happen often. Carolina also shot a paltry 10-18 from the free throw line, good for just 55.6%. The Tar Heels were also just 4-12 from three point range, compared to the Blue Devils’ 13-27 shooting from beyond the arc.

Theo Pinson returned for the Heels and had six points, seven rebounds, and three assists off the bench. Justin Jackson led all UNC scorers with 21 points on 8-13 shooting and had five rebounds, and Berry added another 15 points, three rebounds, and two assists. Seventh Woods had a quality game, with four points, a team-leading four assists, and no turnovers.

Isaiah Hicks did not play due to a hamstring injury, and Luke Maye started in his place. In his first career start he had eight points, two rebounds, and two assists. The absence of Hicks definitely hurt the Heels, as Duke was able to be more successful on the boards.

Grayson Allen went off, going for twenty-five points before fouling out with a minute left. Carolina’s defense in this game was suspect, with the Heels allowing their opponent to shoot 52.6% from the floor and 48% from three. Carolina really needs to work on their perimeter defense going forward, as it has been exposed at many points in conference play.

Although it’s a tough, frustrating loss, there is no reason to be concerned. Duke played very well, and UNC was not able to score as easily in the paint or rebound as effectively without Hicks on the floor. Pinson provided a boost, and it’s clear that they are a better team with him on the floor, however he couldn’t make up for the loss of a key starter. I don’t mean to make excuses, however it makes the loss a bit more understandable.

Carolina returns to action against NC State on Wednesday at 8:00 on the ACC Network. The Heels will have a chance at redemption when they play Duke at home on Saturday, March 4th at 8:15 on ESPN.