UNC Basketball: Takeaways From the Duke Loss


Wednesday night, the UNC basketball team suffered a heart-breaking overtime loss at Duke.  While it was a very close game against a very good team, this was a game that Carolina desperately wanted to win.  Now, that may seem like stating the obvious.  I mean, of course they wanted to win against their biggest rivals.  But this game held extra meaning for UNC.  Coming in, the Heels had lost 3 of 4, and were falling in both the national rankings and the ACC rankings.  A win would have put Carolina back on track and would have provided a big win to add to their tournament resume.  Unfortunately, Carolina blew a 7 point lead in the last 80 seconds, and have now lost 4 of 5.  But the Heels need to forget about that, and learn from the Duke game.  I’ll go through the three most important things that Carolina should have learned from Wednesday’s loss.

3.  Pace is everything

When Carolina was playing well, they were pushing the ball up the court, and getting baskets early in the shot clock.  For instance, when Carolina went on a 9-0 run early in the second half, they never took longer than 18 seconds to get a shot off.  They were beating Duke down the court and getting good, high-percentage shots on every possession.  When Carolina is at their best, playing at a rapid tempo, few teams in the country can defend them.

Nate Britt and other guards are necessary in maintaining the pace Carolina likes to play at. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

But, at the end of the game, when Carolina had a comfortable lead, they stopped pushing the ball.  For several consecutive possessions, Carolina was content to dribble the ball at half court for 25 seconds to try and run down the clock before shooting a contested, ill-advised shot.  These wasted possessions allowed Duke to go on a run at the end of the game and send it to overtime.  The same thing happened during UNC’s monumental collapse against Louisville a few weeks ago.  When they got up big, Carolina stopped pushing the ball, and lost a lot of energy and momentum, letting Louisville back in the game.  Even late in the game and leading, I think Carolina needs to continue to push the ball.  When they don’t, they always seem to go flat not only on offense, but also on defense and on the boards.

2.  Marcus Paige will no longer be able to single-handedly win games

Feb 14, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Marcus Paige (5) handles the ball against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the second half at the Petersen Events Center. Pittsburgh won 89-76. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday, Paige was kept to a pedestrian 5 points on just 2-11 shooting.  This was due in large part to the fact that Duke would not leave him alone.  Quinn Cook shadowed Paige for basically the entire game, keeping him from getting many good looks.  Even off screens, Paige was not able to get open because of Cook’s defense.  This will happen more and more often for Carolina as teams will follow Duke’s lead.  When the Heels face good teams in the postseason, they will not be able to rely on Marcus Paige to put up 20-plus points a game.  Without Paige being able to score in bunches, I think Carolina will have to rely more on big-men like Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson.  On the bright side, Meeks and Johnson, along with J.P. Tokoto, played great on Wednesday and have played better recently.

1.  Free-throws could be the team’s downfall

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This season, Carolina has shot just 69.5 percent from the line.  That is 155th best in the country.  On Wednesday, free-throw shooting cost the Heels.  UNC was 12 of 20 from the line and missed the front end of two one-and-ones late in the game.  If Carolina had just made those two shots, it would have been much more difficult for Duke to stage a comeback.  For instance, Duke would have needed a three on their last possession instead of just a two.  The last few years, free-throws have been a major weak-spot for the Heels, but they need to figure out a way to make them.  Because when March comes around, their season could come down to whether they can make free-throws down the stretch.  Right now, that’s not a spot where Carolina would feel confident.