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Tar Heel Hangover: Just too much

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Too many missed free throws, turnovers, and bad calls once again doom a fantastic effort.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is our opportunity to review last week’s games, second-guess all of the key moments, and set the game plan for the week ahead.

The Elevator Speech: What happened last week.

The Heels lost two close games to top 10 ranked opponents by a total of only 8 points. If that were the only story of the week in this painful season, then it would have been understandable. Instead, it is the blown lead on Saturday that is causing distress across Carolina land. Time to vent a bit.

Water Cooler Discussion: If I were the coach . . .

I would have been thrown out of the game.

There is nothing that gets under my skin like bad officiating. On Saturday morning, I could barely keep it together for a recreation league youth basketball game where the officiating was so wildly inconsistent that the game was won by whistles instead of the players.

I did not expect such a pitiful performance to actually be the officiating highlight of the day.

What Television Theodore did on Saturday was drain the life out of a bunch of kids that in no way deserved it. While one can only theorize if the show was for attention or due to incompetence, it was pathetic either way.

A very choppy and foul laden second half gave way to a final 15 seconds of overtime that should be played when the officials retire. Duke scored with 12 seconds remaining to cut the margin to one. Garrison Brooks inbounded the ball to Andrew Platek, who was absolutely mugged from behind. Suddenly, for the first time in about 25 minutes of game play, Valentine decided that contact would be allowed. This was absolutely ridiculous given that 1) it was clearly a foul and 2) much less had been called consistently. There is no other way to view this moment than Valentine wanted to affect the outcome. Even more egregious, he awarded possession to Duke and replays did not have any angle sufficient to overturn the call.

What should have been Platek shooting two free throws up one turned into a Duke in-bounds play. Tre Jones drove the ball to the rim and suddenly touch fouls were back in vogue. This incomprehensible sequence, of course, happened right in front of the Duke bench, because, of course it did.

I know this is a lot of sour grapes over a poorly officiated stretch that Carolina should have won anyway. Just a few more made free throws puts the game totally out of reach to end regulation. But that’s not what happened.

I also acknowledge that I am hyper-sensitive to the issue. Maybe it is just looking for an excuse to explain what has happened this year. Maybe this was the final straw in a frustrating year. What is certainly true, is that the guys in Carolina Blue played their hearts out this week and came up empty.

At least that was the only time this year a critical and terrible call at the end of the game went against Carolina, right? Wrong. An off-season debate could be had about whether the Duke calls or the Brandon Robinson “foul” at the end of the Boston College game was worse. Although not an intentionally dirty play, Jared Hamilton’s obvious post-shot lean into Robinson’s leg has cost the senior a number of games. Both calls led directly to losses.

What’s more, these calls have withheld the one thing that this team is really missing; confidence. The offense is looking better and the team is playing good defense, but end of game situations test the resiliency and confidence of the players. Winning can build momentum and cure a lot of ills, but it just seems like the deck is stacked against this squad.

I applaud the will to march on.

Looking Forward: A quick peek ahead.

Two winnable games are on the schedule for this week, if the team can recover emotionally and physically; at Wake Forest on Tuesday and a home game against Virginia on Saturday. At this point, there are not enough wins remaining in the regular season to make a tournament run. Getting back to .500 and hoping for a NIT bid is about the best that can be done absent a miraculous run in the ACC tournament. That, however, will take a lot of wins and a lot of confidence for a team playing multiple consecutive day games with a short bench.

Go Heels!