There was outrage — cold and icy — accumulating on the streets of Franklin.
“Where’s Duke?” was the common refrain from bitter fans and salty students, who were ready to claim the Smith Center as their own Feb. 12. Instead, they walked away, hands in gloves, thorns in their sides.
They’d have to wait eight days before they could burst onto the Smith Center court, eight days before they could set Franklin Street ablaze.
There’s been a similar wait this time around.
The North Carolina basketball team will head to Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday having not played since Monday night’s 63-61 defeat of Notre Dame.
This wait, however, has been a welcome one.
The Tar Heels have played their last seven games in a grueling 17-day span. They’ve won all of those games — they’ve won 12 in a row — but an ounce of fatigue has set in.
“We’re going to be able to rest our bodies a little bit, go back to practice, evaluate ourselves and have good hard practices to prepare us for Duke,” said redshirt senior guard Leslie McDonald following Monday’s victory.
“I think it’s a wonderful time. It’s a great time. I’m pretty sure all my teammates and myself are going to enjoy this little break.”
Coach Roy Williams has lamented that his No. 14 UNC team (23-7, 13-4 ACC) has won most of its games ugly as of late, including Monday night’s teeter-totter performance, which saw UNC nearly squander a 15-point lead.
McDonald said fatigue could play somewhat of a role in that recent slippage — but more than likely, its due to a lapse in intensity.
“I think we’ve become accustomed to this winning streak, and when you’re accustomed to winning all the time, you lose a little bit of focus,” McDonald said.
“What gave us this streak is our sense of urgency, and we gotta continue to do that. We’re — how many games is it straight? Twelve? We gotta understand that teams are just not going to give it to us.”
No. 4 Duke (23-7, 12-5) certainly won’t be looking to give anything away Saturday — especially after falling to Wake Forest, 82-72, Wednesday in Winston-Salem.
It also doesn’t help UNC that the Blue Devils are notoriously stingy at home, having won 32 consecutive games in Durham.
The last time the Tar Heels faced their Tobacco Road rivals, Duke led for nearly the entire contest — including an 11-point lead five minutes into the second half.
Freshman superstar Jabari Parker — a frontrunner for ACC player of the year — scored 17 points and tallied 11 rebounds in that game. Redshirt sophomore forward Rodney Hood scored 16.
But spearheaded by a career night from McDonald and from 13 second-half points from sophomore guard Marcus Paige, the Tar Heels knocked off the Blue Devils, 74-66.
It wasn’t an easy win by any stretch, but UNC has shown a penchant for winning those types of games — something that could serve the Tar Heels well Saturday and as they head into next week’s ACC tournament.
“I don’t think we’ve peaked,” Paige said.
“We haven’t played our best, but we’re still winning the games. If we lose these last couple or if things don’t go our way, you can say, ‘Yeah, we’ve peaked, or is our run over?’
“But last I checked, we’re still rolling, and finding ways to win is important in March.”
It’ll be just as important Saturday.
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