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Ahead of Duke, UNC's Roy Williams and teammates deflect blame from Cole Anthony

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UNC first-year guard Cole Anthony (2) attempts to dribble past Boston College first-year forward CJ Felder during a game against Boston College in the Smith Center on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. UNC fell to Boston College by just one point in the last minutes of the game, making the final score 71-70.

Cole Anthony was a hot topic ahead of North Carolina’s first matchup against its biggest rival — but not for the same reasons you might’ve guessed in November.

The standard storylines were there, sure: how UNC's star guard was preparing for the rivalry, how he would match up against Tre Jones, and so on and so forth.

Those were overshadowed, though, by a more pressing (and perhaps unexpected) question on Thursday at UNC’s pre-Duke media availability: how much is Anthony to blame for the team’s last two losses?

According to his coach and teammates, it’s just as much, and no more, than the next guy.

“It’s been everybody,” forward Armando Bacot said. “We’ve all played a role in the losing.”

After missing 11 games with a knee injury, Anthony made his long-awaited return last week — only for the Tar Heels, who were then riding a two-game win streak, to promptly lose to Boston College and No. 8 Florida State. And the Twitter reviews have been a bit Jekyll and Hyde.

For every good moment, such as Anthony’s 26 points and perfect 14-14 foul-line shooting against BC, there’s another that gives pause. Examples include a flummoxed final possession against the Eagles, which ended with Anthony tossing up a desperation three, or his 5-22 shooting in a Monday loss to the Seminoles.

Roy Williams’ reaction to such fanbase frustrations? In this trying 2019-20 season, it’s nothing new.

“I've screamed ‘Move’ in practices and in games more than I have in my entire life, whether Cole was in the lineup or not,” he said. “Everybody's making a big thing out of that. Think back to the first overtime at Virginia Tech. Does anybody remember? I do. We shot a 30-foot shot as the shot clock was winding down. So it had nothing to do with Cole.”

Anthony said otherwise in a candid interview Thursday. He again took responsibility for the 65-59 loss to Florida State, citing “a lot of bad shots,” some “selfish decisions” and a lack of setting up teammates.

“I’m not mad people are blaming me for that,” he said. “They should.”

But teammates alluded to the idea that the concern with Anthony is not that he’s hurting the team — guard Leaky Black said it’s a matter of chemistry — but that he’s taking the losses too hard.

As Bacot put it: “That’s the type of person (Cole) is. He'll always try to put it all on himself.”

After UNC returned to Chapel Hill via charter flight (very) late Monday, for example, Anthony said he spent about 45 minutes shooting in an empty Smith Center.

He also talked over the loss with his father, Greg Anthony, and his mother, Crystal McCrary, as he’s done all season. All that came after a dismal locker-room interview in Tallahassee and few social media scrolls’ worth of criticism (yes, Anthony does read it).

“It’s definitely hard to see a guy down like that,” Black said.

Still, the mood was generally optimistic as UNC’s five starters held court on the floor where the team will host Duke on Saturday night.

Guard Andrew Platek marveled at the rivalry as “a day you mark on your calendar,” and Bacot joked about how he hasn’t really talked with Duke star Vernon Carey Jr., a high school friend, since they enrolled at their respective universities. (They’re still close, though, Bacot made sure to note.)

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And Anthony spoke of Saturday’s opportunity with hope. Any win against the No. 7 Blue Devils, who enter the game 19-3, is a significant one. Given UNC’s record, and this recent losing streak, the external pressures are there, too.

“I like to play basketball — well, I love to play basketball,” Anthony said. “In this sport, you can always live to see another day. I ain't die in that last game, so I’m going to be ready to play this next game. It’s all I can do. if I go out there and we play well as a team this next game, people are going to forget about that last loss.”

@chapelfowler

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com