"You know, I still think you can move those three banners to the left ... ," Williams said as the fans drowned out the end of his speech.
Fifth-year senior reserve Orlando Melendez, whose North Carolina team had just lost by 25 points, stood in a dark corner of the gym and watched before he boarded the bus back to Chapel Hill to prepare for the ACC Tournament.
The Blue Devils have grander things in mind.
But tonight, on a glitzier stage than any this season, the Tar Heels have a renewed opportunity. UNC has a last chance to set right a season full of wrongs.
The mission starts at 7 p.m. at the Charlotte Coliseum, and most people expect it to end at about 9 p.m. -- just in time for the Tar Heels to start Spring Break with the rest of their classmates.
By winning against Clemson and Florida State's losing to Georgia Tech, UNC weaseled out of Thursday's play-in game. That slick maneuvering slid them into a less-than-desirable reward.
"I'm glad to have a straight path to the quarterfinals and not have to go through the play-in game," said UNC coach Matt Doherty, "but the consolation is you get to play Duke again."
An unenviable task. No. 3 Duke (26-3, 13-3) and UNC (8-19, 4-12) meet for the first time ever in the ACC quarters. The only way the Tar Heels could lengthen their postseason trip beyond Charlotte is to win the whole thing. All they can afford to worry about, though, are visions of Blue Devils draining 3s in their heads.
In two meetings, Duke has outscored rival UNC 180-126. Sunday, frustrations translated into a couple shoving matches and five technical fouls. A third meeting looms. The question is, does a third drubbing, also?
Turnover of the Guard
Powder and royal blue alike emphasized that the Tar Heels' turnovers have to stop to give them a chance. Against Duke, UNC has forgone an offensive play 50 times to Blue Devils' 20.
"It's easier said than done," Doherty said. "You guys sit there and you watch it, and you say, 'How come you can't pass it from Point A to Point B?'"
By now, one lesson should be certain: Duke is quick and UNC must anticipate their defenders' anticipation and not be lazy with the ball. Boone and Melvin Scott said the Tar Heels feel more prepared for the pressure this time because they've experienced it twice and just five days ago.
"You have to have an understanding of what your offense is trying to accomplish before you can really attack it," Boone said. "Beyond that, you just have to attack it aggressively. You can't be passive because their team feeds off of teams being passive and on their heels."
The Tar Heels will have to think like a football team offensively because the Blue Devils play defense like cornerbacks. The guards have to be quarterbacks, throwing the ball in the right spot and leading their receivers.
"We learned that they get into the passing lanes, so we're going to have to cut harder and run to passes," Scott said.
UNC hasn't shot that dreadfully (46.2 percent) against Duke, but the turnovers negate that positive. The Tar Heels have countered the Blue Devils' 137 shots with just 91 chucks of their own.
"It'd be like giving them the ball 25 times before the game starts and saying, 'Here's 25 possessions, now let's play,'" Doherty said.
And the turnovers have only been the icing of Duke's guard advantages. In the two games, Boone and Scott have combined for 16 points, seven assists and 15 turnovers. Williams and Chris Duhon: 75 points, 26 assists and four turnovers.
Some Aggressiveness Required
The huge disparity in turnovers and possessions against the Blue Devils lends heavily to the scoring problems. Still, fewer Tar Heels need to be scared to make a move, take a shot, post somebody up, drive, etc. At the Smith Center, only Brian Morrison, off the bench, reached double figures, and Capel and Jawad Williams were alone at Cameron.
Conspicuously absent has been Kris Lang -- 14 points on 7-for-17 shooting and 0-for-5 from the free-throw line, five rebounds and seven turnovers in the two games. Much of the problem has been UNC's ineffective offensive execution.
With Lang as the only inside threat, teams, including Duke, have locked down on Lang. If Lang's teammates get him more into the flow, the rest of the offense will open up.
Co-senior Capel, however, has oozed aggressiveness in the last two games. He only took four shots in Round One, but tied his career-high of 28, which he had set the previous game, on Sunday.
"I think a lot of times I haven't been aggressive," Capel said. "I've had some personal problems in my life, and it kind of took my mind off of basketball for a while. But these are my last couple of games, so if I'm going out I'm going out swinging."
Considering the task that faces the Tar Heels and the missions left unaccomplished behind them, it could be hard to imagine that hope exists. They say not to look for them to take a dive.
"It's my job to make sure we believe," Doherty said. "Otherwise, we shouldn't get on the bus to go down to Charlotte."
The bus left Wednesday.
The Sports Editor can be reached at email@example.com.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.