BROOKLYN — All Joel Berry could do was walk toward the bench.
He couldn't stay out there, not with four fouls and over 15 minutes left to play. And not with the way the game had been called to that point.
The risk of losing him for a few minutes was big, but the chance he could stay in and pick up his fifth foul — disqualifying him for the rest of the game — was too overwhelming a thought not to act on.
So head coach Roy Williams pointed at Nate Britt to check in. Once Berry came over and sat down, Williams said a few words to him. There would still be an opportunity for him to make an impact.
"He was just saying, you know, just keep my head up, keep my head into the game and when I go back in, just be a big time player ..." Berry said. "That was all he said. And I just tried to stay positive and keep my head up."
But keeping his head up meant Berry had to watch as Duke began its comeback against the North Carolina men's basketball team. The Tar Heels managed to stretch the lead to 13 a little over a minute later, but from there the Blue Devils went on a 33-9 run to take complete control of the game, eventually defeating the Tar Heels, 93-83, in the ACC Tournament semifinals in Brooklyn on Friday.
Each second that ticked by was agonizing for the junior. He inched up in his seat with every Duke bucket. It was painful to watch knowing he couldn't do anything about it.
Painful, seeing Jayson Tatum fly through the lane and slam one home to cut the lead to 11. Painful, watching helplessly as Britt threw his hand between Luke Kennard's arms as the latter buried a corner 3-pointer — a little more so once the whistle blew and a foul was called on Britt. And, maybe the most painful, watching Duke's Frank Jackson hit a three from the same spot to give Duke its first lead of the game at 66-65 with 9:02 to go.
North Carolina's defense was a hot mess, and the offense was sputtering on the other end without Berry leading the charge.
"We're used to Joel being out there at all times," Britt said, "and I think that had something to do with our offense being stagnant."
The Tar Heels were able to tie the game at 70-70 with six and a half minutes left, but from there the Blue Devils owned the game. North Carolina struggled to stay in front of their guards, and, thanks to some swift officiating, was sending Duke to the line at a rapid pace.
UNC racked up 28 fouls — its most in a game all season. Duke, which finished the game 33-of-37 (89.2 percent) at the free-throw line, won by 10 despite taking 28 fewer shots than the Tar Heels.
"One of our biggest focuses was playing defense without fouling ..." Williams said. "Some of those were silly fouls. And it's my job to make sure we're more disciplined than we were."
But Berry still had a chance to come back in and make those big-time plays. After the Blue Devils shot out to a 77-70 lead, he checked in for Britt. Two minutes later, he found himself open in the corner for a three. It rimmed out. Two possessions later, he drove the lane, absorbed a foul and tried to convert the three-point play. It rimmed out. And, just a few seconds later, he attempted his first of two free throws. It, too, rimmed out.
Things didn't go much better for the guard after that stretch. Duke padded its lead. He air-balled a three. And the Tar Heels trudged off the court knowing their chance at repeating as ACC Tournament champions was no longer a possibility.
All they, and Berry, could do was walk toward the locker room.
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