One point. One point was the difference in last night’s game between Carolina and Duke, and the final seconds were a perfect embodiment of everything that is this rivalry: an extremely tight game that came down to the last shot. Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, it was Coby White’s last shot that failed to go in, and Nassir Little missed a putback that would’ve won the game. That team in Durham finally got their day, though let’s make things perfectly clear: it wasn’t the dominating win that the team or their fans wanted.
There’s a lot that can be learned from a game like this, even though two more points would change the complete tone of the evening for the Tar Heels. Let’s take a moment and discuss what those things are, and how the Heels can prepare themselves for the NCAA Tournament. Oh, and one very important note: I will not be referring to that one guy that wears number one for Duke by name. It is very likely everyone will hear his name enough to fill in each omission in this article elsewhere.
Living and dying by the jump shot
Roy Williams during his press conference discussed the over abundance of jumpers that his team took and missed. The team went 4-27 from three, which is a recipe for disaster if you become over-reliant on said strategy. That one guy wearing number one for Duke had a little bit to do with that, but overall the Blue Devils as a team started playing extremely good defense from the second portion of the first half and onward.
Truth be told, however, the Heels just didn’t try hard enough to get to the rim. They settled for way too many jumpers instead of seeing if they could keep Duke in foul trouble in the second half. Coby White’s shot at the end of the game pretty much told the entire story: you live by the jump shot, and you die by the jump shot. On this night, the Heels died by the jump shot, and perhaps the biggest lesson of the season is that there is no way that the Heels get to Minneapolis without figuring out how to have a more balanced attack. It’s just that simple.
Garrison Brooks is amazing, but he has to be more poised
Garrison Brooks, in my opinion, was the star of the game for North Carolina. His assignment for the night was dealing with number one for Duke, and for the better part of the night he did one of the better jobs guarding him one on one that anybody has done all season. I’ve discussed in the past how stat lines can be extremely deceiving, and this is definitely one of those nights where this holds true. Brooks was preventing number one from getting a lot of touches, and when his man did get the ball, things usually didn’t go particularly well for Duke.
With all of the good that came from Brooks’ performance, there is of course the downside: he found himself in foul trouble, and he picked up his third and fourth fouls in rapid succession. After having to sit out for a bit, Nassir Little did his best to contain number one, but things became really tricky for Carolina. Brooks found his way back into the game for what was going to be a clutch lockdown performance, but then the fifth foul happened. Number one scored what would eventually be the game-winning layup.
All things considered, the Tar Heels couldn’t have had a better defender on number one. There’s a lot of credit that has to be given to Brooks for his second half of the ACC schedule: he figured out a way to stay out of the foul trouble that he found himself in tonight for quite a few games, which is also why it hurts so much that this is the game where we saw the old Brooks’ return. He absolutely must find and maintain some poise in the NCAA Tournament, because as we found out tonight, you’ll never know when foul trouble will become costly.
Carolina should still be a one seed, alas...
In the interest of full disclosure, I tried extremely hard to remove all silver lining from a game like this and find the things that Carolina struggled with that could prove important going forward. Shot selection is an easy one, and one could also argue defense (though subtract number one for Duke, and one could argue their defense was just fine).
However, let’s be completely honest with ourselves: this game came down to literally seconds against a team that was crowned at the beginning of the season as the best team in the country. It’s also the team that Carolina beat twice minus that one guy, and that is something that is especially important with this game being so extremely close. Duke didn’t have Carolina’s number, but it didn’t go the other way either. To put it bluntly: the North Carolina Tar Heels are one of the best teams in the country, and it’s very possible that the Selection Committee robs them of a one seed.
In Tanya Bondurant’s game summary from last night, she began by stating just how many opportunities Carolina had to win the game. When seeing them in order, it becomes that much clearer that this game could’ve been a win for the Heels in many different ways.
Luke Maye tries to corral a loose ball under Duke’s basket. The ball bounces into the hands of Jordan Goldwire for an easy layup.
Cameron Johnson gets a clean look at a 3 in the waning minutes of the game. The shot looks good off his hands, but it glances off the rim.
Coby White drives to the basket in the final seconds of the game. His foot slips and he has to put up a tough shot that doesn’t go in.
Nassir Little is in prime position for a game-winning put back. It doesn’t go in.
Even with those things said, there was still one more incident that happened as the buzzer sounded.
Whether this footage proves that there was a foul or not, the point is that Carolina had multiple opportunities to solidify the claim that they deserve a one seed in the NCAA Tournament. What will actually happen Sunday is anybody’s guess, but it’s likely that the consensus will be that the Heels will end up a two seed. After winning a share of the ACC regular season title, two points could be the difference between a one and a two seed. Two. Points. The committee has a lot of thinking to do between now and tomorrow evening, and Lord knows if they will make the right decision.
No matter what the committee decides, there is one absolute truth: it is officially time for the North Carolina Tar Heels to prepare for the NCAA Tournament, and this is their grand opportunity to take the sting of this game and turn it into something amazing. Here’s hoping they do just that.