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UNC 73, Duke 74: A perfect storm

A great game for people whose very happiness didn’t depend on it.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Duke vs North Carolina Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

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.

A game of inches. A perfect storm. Whatever you want to call it, it was a heartbreaking ending to UNC’s semifinal game of the ACC Tournament. The fact that the team even had a chance at the end felt surprising after such a poor performance from distance. The Tar Heels shot just 15% from three. And yet, they had a chance.

Garrison Brooks got whistled for his fifth foul with just about two and a half minutes left in the game. It would prove to be a monumental call, as UNC had no one else capable of guarding Zion Williamson. Brooks had done a fairly good job of guarding Duke’s superstar all night, which the box score won’t really reflect, and his absence was definitely felt at the end of the game.

Scoring droughts plagued the Heels again, which has been a bit of a common theme the last few games. They were unable to really step on the Blue Devils’ throats when they had a chance early, and they failed to take leads late. There were chances, so many chances, but they all seemed to come up just short.

Cameron Johnson finished the game as the Tar Heels’ leading scorer. He started the game absolutely on fire before Duke’s defense bottled him up for a decent chunk of the game. Without him, UNC struggled to find another option to pick up the slack. Luke Maye finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds, Coby White had 11 points. None of it was enough.

It almost was, though. Somehow. That’s what is probably the most frustrating thing. Carolina could have won this game if this thing or that thing had gone just slightly different. They allowed 31 points to Williamson and were still in it until the very end.

UNC managed to win the rebounding battle in the end despite being behind in the category at halftime. Duke managed to turn it over more times than UNC (12-8), but the Blue Devils were able to dominate in the paint. They out-scored Carolina down low 50-38. A lot of that can probably be attributed to Williamson, but Duke also got valuable minutes out of some of their role players. Jordan Goldwire and Antonio Vrankovic held down the fort while Duke weathered the foul trouble storm.

It was a good game for the superstitious crowd, however. UNC has never won the ACC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament in the same year under Roy Williams. In 2005, 2009, and 2017, the Tar Heels lost in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament and Duke went on to take home the title. Carolina ended up with the season’s biggest prize, though.

Here’s to history repeating itself.

Carolina will wait to see if they’ve done enough to earn a #1 seed in the tournament on Sunday.