The Duke Blue Devils came into the Dean Dome and stole the first game of the series. Despite leading for a large majority of the game, North Carolina could not make enough shots in the end to hold off Duke’s late surge. With a minute and nine seconds remaining, Grayson Allen sunk his second free throw to give Duke the lead 74-73. That’s where the score would stay after Carolina could not get a good enough shot off.
Despite the loss, there’s a lot that went right for the Tar Heels. Brice Johnson was unstoppable for the first 30 minutes, grabbing offensive rebounds and slamming them back down. He scored 29 points and grabbed 19 rebounds, completely owning the glass and scoring at will against Marshall Plumlee. Justin Jackson was only two rebounds away from finishing with a double double as he finished with 13 points and 8 rebounds. As a team Carolina outrebounded Duke 44-29, and shot better from the field 42.9% to 41.5%.
However, the starting backcourt for Carolina had a horrendous shooting night. Marcus Paige and Joel Berry combined for 4-22 shooting. I could see two freshmen having a poor showing on a big night, but Joel Berry has gotten a huge amount of playing time and Marcus Paige is supposed to be our guy. “Our guy” can not be shooting so poorly on the biggest stage. Many thought Marcus Paige was going to be the MVP of the team this year, but Brice Johnson has stepped up to another level to lead this team in Paige’s absence.
There was controversy on why Roy Williams did not call a timeout to set up a final play. He cited that he has always coached his players to attack so that the defense can not get set. However, even though a timeout could have given Carolina a better chance to win the game, it was more than the last play that cost them the game. Poor shooting from the guards and not giving Brice the ball were the main reasons why the lead slipped away.
Carolina has the pieces to make a deep tournament run, but what scares me is how rarely all the pieces come together. Any team that makes the tournament can take down a favorite, especially this season where there is no clear cut team above the rest. This loss has stung everybody in Chapel Hill, but hopefully it stings the players in the locker room the most. Carolina has a few more games before the second matchup with Duke and needs to concentrate on those games first. Come March 5th, it’s Duke time again, and I would love to spoil their senior night with a huge win.