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UNC vs. Duke: Three Things Learned

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I don’t even know what to say anymore.

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

I’ll be really honest, readers: I’m tired of meeting like this.

Last night UNC went toe-to-toe with Duke and put up one of the best fights they’ve put up all year. Of course, because life is pain, you know how the rest of the story goes — the Heels blew a 13-point lead in the final 4:04 of regulation, put up enough of a fight to go up by five points with 21 seconds left in the game, and lost via a buzzer-beater from Wendell Moore.

Let’s just go ahead and dive into everything that happened. This three things learned piece deserves the good, bad, and ugly treatment, because quite frankly it’s the best way to discuss everything that transpired. Let’s do this.

The Good: Offensive Resurgence

Prior to this game, it’s safe to say that the primary concern was whether or not the Tar Heels would be able to do enough offensively to handle Duke. Amazingly, this team responded with authority, finishing the game shooting 52% from the field. Unfortunately, they are still struggling to shoot from deep, but against a Duke team that has been struggling just as much as they have, there wasn’t much of a need to force the issue.

A lot of credit for their offensive improvement goes to the bigs, but especially Garrison Brooks. He was much more active in the post than he was against Florida State, finishing the game with 18 points off of 75% shooting. Armando Bacot was also able to help out, adding on 12 points and 7 rebounds. Their activity setting screens, boxing out defenders, and getting to spots to where they can do some serious damage helped things out tremendously, and now we have to hold our breaths and hope that this continues on a consistent basis (I know, I feel like we say that a lot around here anymore).

Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce also deserve a shoutout for stepping up in this game. Both players combined for 24 points, and were very efficient in doing so. It was a pleasant surprise seeing them take good shots, staying active on the floor, and limiting their mistakes. Roy Williams tightening up his rotations means that someone is going to have to help out the starters whenever the come off the bench, especially if foul trouble ensues as often as it did last night, and it’s nice to know that these two guys actually have it in them to get things done.

Finally, there’s Cole Anthony. Despite making a suboptimal 41% of his shots from the field, he was huge in this game. Yes, he did turn the ball over four times and pick up four fouls. However, the idea that his return is hurting this team can officially die with this game...hopefully. Perhaps that hot take is better saved for the Wake Forest game.

The Bad: Turnovers, fouls, and free throws

The buzz following this epic battle has heavily revolved around Carolina missing 17 of their 38 free throws. That’s understandable, as making those shots decide a win or a loss when there are so many fouls called on the floor for both teams. However, we should probably discuss how the Tar Heels turned the ball over 18 times, which led to 25 of Duke’s points.

If we’re being honest, turnovers tend to run a little high in this game, and it’s almost a little weird when they don’t. However, Duke managed to keep things in check, and when they turned the ball over UNC only managed to score 11 points off of those turnovers. The Heels are going to have to find a way to fix this issue before they face off again in Cameron, otherwise we may see a similar result a month from now.

Finally, while the foul calls were split right down the middle in this game, Carolina could’ve done more to prevent some of those calls from happening. Duke does a really good job of doing damage in the paint, and the Heels will have to figure out a way to stop them in March without putting everyone in foul trouble, as it limited Cole Anthony and others in their abilities to stop Tre Jones on his ridiculous run in the fourth quarter that pushed the game to overtime.

The Ugly: The Rise of TV Teddy

Look, I understand that the Tar Heels shouldn’t have put the game in the refs’ hands, but let’s be really honest with ourselves: the referees all but ruined this game approximately 24 minutes before the foul on Andrew Platek that wasn’t called.

After both teams only committed 18 fouls before halftime, things got completely out of hand from an officiating prospective in the second half. The high amount of foul calls slowed the game way down, and it began to feel like the TV Teddy Show featuring Carolina and Duke instead of an actual basketball game. Collectively, both teams finished the second half with 29 fouls, and they added on 7 more fouls in overtime. It was brutal to watch, and it was one of the more blatantly inconsistent games I’ve ever seen officiated.

This of course is all without getting to the terrible no-call against Andrew Platek. Rather than going on a fiery rant, I’ll share this tweet and leave the issue alone:

Whether Carolina won or lost, it would’ve been hard to dispute that the second half officiating was painful at best. There’s nothing that can be done about it, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating as a college basketball fan.

To wrap things up, UNC undoubtedly played their hearts out and put on one of their best performances of the season. Unfortunately moral victories do nothing for the win/loss column, and the Heels will have to get back to work and try to put this losing streak to an end against Wake Forest.