These were better days for Heels' fans.
It’s only fair.
When the North Carolina Tar Heels were at the top of their games the last few years, I always took the opportunity during the two annual meetings with bitter rival Duke to document the matchups with a running diary of the games.
But as a 1998 grad of UNC, I can honestly say I wasn’t planning on carrying that tradition forward tonight.
Taking into account that North Carolina’s season is all but over and far from relevant, and then adding Duke’s typical top-10 ranking, watching the game was nowhere near the top of my list of things to do today, let alone taking the time to break it all down in this space.
Does that make me a bad fan? A bad alum?
Well, yeah. And dribbling around between the circles when your team is down by two possessions and there are less than 30 seconds on the clock makes you a bad point guard, too.
How on earth are those two things connected? Easy — I know going in what kind of game this is going to be. I hold no hope that Larry Drew II and UNC are going to turn their seasons around, and I know good and well that Duke only being favored by six points is a flat-out joke.
But it wouldn’t be right for me to bail on the blog — or the Heels, for that matter — just because things are going badly for my alma mater. So I’m here, and will be throughout the night with notes and instant analysis from the game.
Let’s just get this over with.
One quick thing here before we start the bloodbath.
The Heels are retiring Tyler Hansbrough’s No. 50 tonight. No doubt the crowd will be really into it. And I’m not saying there isn’t at least a chance the Heels play well for a half and keep it close before Duke destroys them with a 23-2 run (If freaking UVA can do it in the Dome…), but if the Heels’ players don’t come out all jacked up for this game and play inspired basketball from tip to horn, it’s on them.
And if that happens — if the Heels are flat in this game — UNC fans should begin counting the days until the softies either graduate or take off for the NBA. Because that will have said everything every Carolina fan has wondered all year about this team.
As for the Blue Devils, they seem to be following the same kind of pattern as the last few years — depend heavily on two or three guys to carry the load. The trio of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are enough to get through the ACC and certainly North Carolina, but will they be enough in March?
Oh, and one other thing: Travis Wear, the Heels’ first frontcourt player off the bench, is out indefinitely now with a bad ankle. Just what in God’s name is going on with bad ankles and the Heels this year?
Somebody check the shoes, and quick.
All of that said, the Heels need some toughness, and need it in a hurry if they are even to compete in this game. Toughness like this:
20:00 Here’s the tip — and what’s left of North Carolina’s season.
15:30 Great start for Duke, with Scheyer and Singler combining for three 3-pointers. Heels have intensity — just not much game in the early going.
Really tough matchup for Will Graves on Singler. And Marcus Ginyard has two turnovers already. Ecchh. 9-4, Devils.
13:13 Dexter Strickland tries to dunk over Singler.
Didn’t happen. A stupid play for sure, but at least the kid plays with no fear.
Meanwhile, Scheyer and Singler own all 13 points. 13-7.
12:18 Duke is controlling all aspects of the game, holding UNC to its typical point-a-minute offense.
Four assists already for the Devils — on four field goals. If the Devils were shooting any better than 25 percent, this might be a laugher already. 13-8.
10:44 A bomb of a 3 by Will Graves, shot from Winston-Salem. 16-13, Duke.
8:25 Another bomb from Graves. Tie game, at 20.
3:39 Give the Heels credit — they have come to play tonight.
Now granted, it helps that Duke is missing chippees like I missed class my senior year in Chapel Hill — the Devils are shooting just 20 percent from the floor — but North Carolina seems to winning in the effort department, and John Henson has given the Heels a big lift off the bench.
Ginyard corrals an offensive rebound and dunks it home, and the Heels have their first lead since 2-0. 24-23, Heels.
3:29 Singler with a 3 out of the TV timeout. Duke has six 3s — and eight total field goals. 26-24, Duke.
1:03 Somebody tell my why every Carolina big man dribbles immediately when he gets the ball in the low post? Why? Even Hansbrough did it. It’s the first thing you’re taught in basketball. Just go up with it. Deon Thompson has an easy put-back dunk, but tries to put the ball on the floor and loses it. Duke hits a 3 here, and the game could get away in a hurry. 28-24, Devils.
2.8 seconds Huge play for the Heels, and maybe one that could turn Drew’s season. Duke tries to hold the ball for a late shot as the half winds down, but the Heels come up with the ball with 6 seconds to go off the rebound. Drew drives the length of the floor and lays it in high off the glass — and draws the foul.
He hits the freebie, and UNC is only down a point, 28-27, at the break.
Big, big play. Perhaps the biggest of the season.
Duke is shooting just 22 percent — though the Devils are 6 of 12 from 21 feet-plus away. Carolina isn’t exactly shooting the lights out at 30 percent, and Thompson does have two fouls, but UNC couldn’t have asked for a better end to the half. They trail by only one, have the Hansbrough ceremony coming up, and should realize that they are capable of playing with the Devils.
As for the Blue Devils? Stay calm and within themselves. There were two long chances in the first half where Duke could’ve put a hurting on UNC — midway through the half and from the 3-minute-mark on. Either time, a couple of made put-backs, and Duke might’ve have a double-digit lead. North Carolina blocked eight shots in the first half — the Heels won’t do that again.
The Devils, though? They are more than capable of hitting another six 3s. Add a couple of layups off of turnovers, and that big run would be right there.
Look at the nuumbers: Duke has seven assists, UNC 1. Duke has 10 offensive rebounds, UNC 6. The Devils were better in the first half.
And if the Heels want to win, somebody better wake up Davis, who has two points. Duke may want to shake scoreless Nolan Smith from his slumber as well.
20:00 OK, Roy, when the big run starts, call a timeout to settle them down.
17:54 I remember that guy.
Marcus Ginyard made a must-make 3 right after Singler hit one off an offensive rebound, and then hits a tough layup to give the Heels a 32-31 lead.
15:54 The Heels take a 3-point lead after yet another blocked shot, but Duke hangs in there with yet another offensive rebound and put-back. A whopping 14 offensive boards. 34-33, UNC.
15:23 Smith hits a pretty jumper. With that shot, Duke players not named Scheyer or Singler are now 3-for-20 from the floor. But Duke leads 35-34.
11:46 Coach K knows when to call timeout.
Some brilliant play by Drew in the last 3 minutes.
A nifty pass on the break to Davis for a layup, a deep 3 for a two-point lead, and then Strickland lays it in after another pretty feed from the point guard. Heels with their biggest lead, 43-39.
10:18 And that’s how a timeout is supposed to work. Devils come out with a strong power move by Singler and then Smith finishes after a patient possession. Tied again at 43. Nice answer by Duke.
9:52 And the Heels? They come out of a timeout and throw it off of Davis’ foot.
Be wary of the Duke run here.
8:51 Looking at Davis’ ankle on the sideline. I mean, c’mon with the ankles.
8:22 The game’s becoming one of attrition at the foul line. Scheyer somehow missed two, and the Heels have missed three. Duke, 45-43.
7:50 Tied at 45, and for much of the second half, Duke has either been really patient in its offense, or it’s resting. I guess we’ll know in the last few minutes of the game which it was.
7:29 Another Davis miss from the line, the front end of a 1-and-1. UNC is 7-for-14 from the stripe. That’s how you lose games.
6:56 23 offensive rebounds. Insane. 47-45, Duke.
6:02 Another bomb for Graves. Right when the Heels absolutely had to have it. 49-48, Devils.
5:37 And Scheyer answers. 52-48, Duke.
4:34 And here’s the run. A leaner by Smith, and it’s a 54-48 Duke edge. 15-5 run.
Kyle Singler and the Blue Devils are just better than Carolina. Simple as that.
3:33 A gorgeous play by Duke. Just gorgeous. The Devils run the shot clock down, go in deep with Brian Zoubek, who dishes to a slashing Singler for an easy layup.
Duke is just better.
Scheyer with a dagger of a 3 at the end of the shot clock again. 59-50. It’s over.
1:34 So you foul 20 seconds after you give up a quick foul, only to foul freaking Scheyer?
That’s the most mind-numbing part of UNC hoops this year. It’s not smart basketball. Ever.
And it’s another Carolina Collapse.
UNC led 43-39 with 11:46 to go. The Heels scored 11 points the rest of the way — and only seven in the critical stretch.
That’s a huge credit to Duke, which hung in there when it didn’t play its best and rode Singler and Scheyer like it always does. But while the Heels stayed in the game with blocked shots, Duke won it with offensive rebounds, a staggering number of them. Duke may have shot only 31 percent from the floor (Carolina only shot 32 percent), but the Devils made nine 3s and had 69 shot attemps. That may have ended as just eight more than UNC, but at one point, Duke had 17 more field goal attempts than Carolina..
Is UNC done? Well, yeah. The Heels were done before this game, whether they won it or not. And while it was certainly a better effort against their biggest rival, it still wasn’t enough, and the Heels only finished with a miniscule 54 points — a good half last year.
No, this is not last season’s title team, and it shouldn’t be compared to it. That’s not fair. The Heels will play out the string now as no threat, and maybe that will help the development of their young players down the road. That’s about all UNC fans can hope for now.
And you know what? That should be OK. Two national titles in five years is a pretty good stretch, don’t you think?
And Duke? When Scheyer, Singler and Smith are on, they have enough to beat anybody in the country on any given night. Are the Devils in the top tier with Kansas, Kentucky and Syracuse? Maybe not, but after witnessing a win like this, they may grind their way to the Final Four.
Put it this way: it wouldn’t be surprising.
Are the Devils flawed? Sure, but they went into their biggest rival’s house against a desperate team, didn’t play their best and yet still found a way to win. That’s the sign of a good team.
Simple as that.