James Michael McAdoo helped UNC get off to a fast start at Duke on Wednesday night. ROBERT WILLETT
CHAPEL HILL — It was a long, hot night inside Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium. Longer still for coach North Carolina coach Roy Williams, who might have taken his team’s 73-68 defeat on Wednesday night harder than anyone.
Here’s a collection of our coverage from last night. Laura Keeley’s story about the game. A story from Chip Alexander about how Duke ignited its perimeter offense in the second half. And a story from me about what went wrong for the Tar Heels after their good start. And a column from Luke DeCock about the sense of inevitably that Wednesday night would belong to the Blue Devils.
And now, as always, the look back …
Three things to take away from the Tar Heels’ defeat:
1. Welcome to the staring lineup, P.J. Hairston.
Williams earlier this week defended the starting five he had used for much of the season – Desmond Hubert, James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock, Dexter Strickland and Marcus Paige – and said those were UNC’s best five players, and that they’d earned in practice the right to start. But Williams changed his lineup on Wednesday and went small, starting Hairston in place of Hubert. It worked. The Heels were the more athletic team early. They were quicker, played with urgency and played together. For the first time all season, UNC’s starters all played at least 30 minutes. Hairston didn’t shoot well from behind the 3-point line – he was just 1-for-7 on 3s – but he led UNC with 23 points. The question now is whether he remains in the starting lineup.
2. The Tar Heels can, and should, build off of this.
Williams said again on Wednesday that he’s not into moral victories, and he shouldn’t be. Even so, UNC did a lot of things right on Wednesday night, and if it can build off of those things then this will be an improved team during the final three weeks of the season. For one, the Heels played with a great sense of energy and purpose. Second, they defended well overall, and mostly stuck to a game plan that called for UNC to limit Duke’s perimeter offense. The effort and intensity was there throughout for the Tar Heels, though the execution wasn’t. On offense, they went about five minutes in the second half without a point. Defensively, they had some lapses that left shooters open, and those guys – Seth Curry, Tyler Thornton – made 3s that hurt UNC in the second half. Still, plenty to build upon.
3. Free throw woes doomed the Tar Heels.
UNC needed to be at or close to its best in all aspects on Wednesday night to have a chance. At times, particularly in the first half, the Tar Heels were at or close to their best. From a statistical standpoint, though, free throws were the difference. The Blue Devils missed just three of their 20 attempts from the line. UNC made just 13 of its 23 attempts from the line. Sometimes basketball is a really simple game. Shoot free throws as poorly as the Tar Heels did last night, and it’s going to be nearly impossible to win a close game on the road against a good opponent. And so it was for UNC. McAdoo and Bullock were a combined 2-for-9 from the line.
This was a pretty even game, statistically. Duke shot better, and by a significant margin. But UNC turned it over at a lesser rate, and did a much better job generating second-chance points through offensive rebounds. The teams went to the free throw line at a nearly equal rate.
It was close throughout. As the chart shows, once Duke went ahead during the second half, UNC had difficulty switching back the momentum. A Tar Heels’ scoring drought that lasted about five minutes didn’t help UNC’s cause.
UNC PLAYER OF THE GAME
Hairston didn’t shoot particularly well, especially on 3-pointers, but he finished with 23 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal. He was the Tar Heels’ best and most consistent player, though the outcome might have been different had he shot on Wednesday night the way he had been shooting in recent weeks.
OBSERVATIONS AND NOTES
--UNC coach Roy Williams earlier this week defended the starting lineup he has used for most of the season, and said those players started because they were most deserving. He made a change on Wednesday night, though, and inserted P.J. Hairston into the starting lineup. By starting Hairston, the Tar Heels went small. Three other guards – Marcus Paige, Dexter Strickland and Reggie Bullock – joined Hairston in the starting lineup alongside James Michael McAdoo, the sophomore forward.
--The Tar Heels started miserably in losses at N.C. State and Miami – their two most recent road games before Wednesday night. But a slow start wasn’t a problem for UNC at Duke. The Heels held the lead throughout the first half, until relinquishing it for the first time without about 14 minutes to play. UNC appeared far more composed than it did at Miami on Saturday, when the Tar Heels never recovered from an early 9-0 deficit. They led Duke by as many as 10 points with 6:42 to play before halftime.
--In the closing minutes of the Blue Devils’ victory, the Duke student section serenaded UNC with a chant of “N-I-T!” With three weeks left in the regular season, the Tar Heels are indeed in NCAA tournament bubble territory. The loss dropped the Heels’ into a tie with N.C. State for fourth place in the ACC. UNC is 6-5 in league play, with a challenging game ahead at home against Virginia on Saturday. The Cavaliers defeated the Heels in Charlottesville, Va., in the ACC opener for both teams.
--Poor free throw shooting has been a problem for UNC all season, and it doomed the Heels in the second half on Wednesday night. They missed six consecutive free throws at one point during the final 20 minutes. UNC made 13 of its 23 free throw attempts overall, but Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo were a combined 2-for-9 from the line. McAdoo missed the front end of two one-and-ones.
--Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski turned 66 on Wednesday. Many members of the Duke student section showed up to the game wearing party hats, and one sign in the student read: “66 more years.” The student section sung “Happy Birthday” to Krzyzewski before the game.
UNC hosts Virginia on Saturday at noon at the Smith Center. The Cavaliers are in third place in the ACC with an 8-3 conference record.