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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC hits rock bottom against Duke

Duke guard Jon Scheyer slides past UNC senior forward Deon Thompson for a loose ball in Duke’s 64-54 victory. DTH/Phong Dinh
Duke guard Jon Scheyer slides past UNC senior forward Deon Thompson for a loose ball in Duke’s 64-54 victory. DTH/Phong Dinh

Correction (Feb. 12): Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this story reported that UNC had fallen to last in the ACC. The Tar Heels are a half-game ahead of N.C. State. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

Before Wednesday night, North Carolina’s season looked a lot like early reports of forward Travis Wear’s injured ankle.

With 10 losses, its NCAA Tournament chances were significantly hobbled. The pressure that was put on it with each passing loss made failure a tender subject. And UNC’s season-long struggle with perimeter defense was a huge cause for concern.

But the season was still unbroken.

It took Duke’s Jon Scheyer all 40 minutes in the Blue Devils’ 64-54 win against the Tar Heels (13-11, 2-7 ACC), but he finished the job.

“No moral victories,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “For 30 minutes, I thought we had the intensity that we needed and should’ve had the whole season, but after that it was their work on the offensive backboards. They seemed more hungry to get there.”

Scheyer overcame a horrendous early shooting performance to put the game away late.

Shortly after junior Will Graves drained a three-pointer to pull UNC within one at 49-48 with 6:04 remaining, the Blue Devils couldn’t immediately find an open look on the other end, and the Smith Center crowd roared with excitement.

UNC cut off Scheyer’s passing lanes, and a barrage of blocks in the lane earlier in the game deterred him from driving toward the basket.

But as the shot clock dipped below 10 seconds, Scheyer finally made a decision. The point guard calmly picked up his dribble and released a high arcing shot with a hand in his face.

One swish later, the Blue Devils (20-4, 8-2) were back in control by four points. And with four more Scheyer points down the stretch, the Tar Heels did not get within three the rest of the game.

Scheyer finished with a game-high 24 points.

“That was a big swing because we were all into it, and he hits that three, and we’re back to where we started,” forward John Henson said. “That really killed us.”

The Blue Devils did it against the Tar Heels best defensive effort of the season.

Duke was bothered by the long arms of North Carolina’s big men all night, shooting a horrendous 13-51 from inside the arc, including 3-28 in the first half.

Kyle Singler and Scheyer in particular were ineffective in the paint. Despite scoring 43 combined points, they shot just 5-for-24 from 2-point range as UNC’s interior defense altered most of their close attempts. The Tar Heels finished with 12 blocks.

But for as poor as the Blue Devils were inside, they could barely miss from the three-point line. Duke made 50 percent of its attempts from behind the arc.

“We were telling them, ‘Don’t worry about not hitting,’” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “‘Just hang in there and take every shot fresh.’”

The lack of a go-to offensive option hampered the Tar Heels, as no player got into double figures for UNC until senior Deon Thompson reached 10 points with 8:18 remaining in the second half. North Carolina has just eight assists compared to 12 turnovers.

“It’s been a struggle for us offensively,” Williams said. “We’re trying to run the fast break and we’ve scored 70, 71, something like that the last three games and 54 tonight.”

After the game, Henson said the UNC locker room was silent except for the sounds of players changing clothes. Scheyer’s heroics and UNC’s collapse down the stretch left them wondering what could have been.

“These are the losses that hurt,” Henson said. “One little play could have changed everything, and that hurts the most.”

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