Redshirt senior Evan Henderson has been the model of consistency in his five years on the North Carolina wrestling team.
And after Henderson won his match against Navy (9-3) on Wednesday night at Carmichael Arena, UNC fans anticipated a pivotal performance from the fifth-ranked wrestler against rival Duke.
But when the match began, Henderson was not on the mat.
Without their 149-pound workhorse, the No. 14 Tar Heels (11-4, 1-3 ACC) fell 21-17 to the Blue Devils (5-7, 1-3 ACC) for the first time since Feb. 3, 2004.
“He just wasn’t feeling well,” Coach Coleman Scott said.
In place of Henderson, Scott sent out redshirt junior Joey Moon. But Moon lost an 8-4 decision, allowing Duke to narrow the early deficit.
Following Moon’s loss, Scott made another unusual decision — choosing redshirt first-year Jack Clark over redshirt seniors Christian Barber and Robert Henderson.
Similar to the decision with Evan Henderson, Scott said he rested the veterans because they weren't feeling well.
But when Clark lost by pin fall to give Duke a 12-9 advantage, it was UNC fans who were feeling sick.
In the next match, No. 9 John Michael Staudenmayer was tied in the second period with a chance to tie the score. But after falling victim to a takedown, Staudenmeyer lost 5-4 to give Duke a 15-9 lead.
One match later, redshirt sophomore Ethan Ramos electrified the crowd with a stunning win, earning a technical fall in the waning seconds of the third period.
But even Ramos’ win couldn’t propel the Tar Heels to victory.
“We only won three matches, it’s ridiculous …" Scott said. "We tried a lot of things, (but) we didn’t do anything."
Coming off its first ACC win against Virginia, the Tar Heels had hoped to gain momentum in the conference against a rival they had owned for decades.
But the loss puts UNC at the bottom of the conference standings, alongside the Blue Devils and the Cavaliers.
Scott said things will have to change if the Tar Heels want to finish the year on a high note. But the rookie coach recognized the onus is on him to evoke change.
“I’m trying to do the best with what I got," he said. "But I've got to get better.”
Although visibly disappointed, Scott saw the outcome as a potential positive for the team.
“Hopefully it motivates them," he said. "Hopefully they walk in the room tomorrow and they’re motivated.
"You can’t dwell on it, but you've got to let it burn."
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