DURHAM, N.C. — Saturday brought a different kind of pain for the North Carolina basketball team.
No, not the buzzer-beating, dagger to the chest kind, the kind with which these Tar Heels have become all too familiar. Not the agony of dramatic losses against Clemson, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Virginia and Notre Dame.
Certainly not the kind of pain that this team felt the first time out against Duke on Feb. 8, in which not one, but two last-second shots sealed UNC’s fate and made the team’s best start-to-finish performance all for naught.
Rather, Saturday night’s regular season finale against the No. 12 Blue Devils brought a slower and, all things considered, perhaps more frustrating kind of heartbreak. While the Tar Heels — who entered Cameron Indoor Stadium riding a three-game win streak — trailed by single digits for virtually all of the game, they tied it just twice and never led in an 89-76 loss.
“Every time we made a play, they either got a call that went their way or a play that went their way,” senior guard Brandon Robinson said. “We’ve just gotta learn from it.”
Duke graduate forward Justin Robinson (no relation), in his first and likely only career start as a result of his team’s Senior Night, was most emblematic of the exasperation. He logged a career-high 13 points on four made 3-pointers; the first one went down two minutes into the game after, yes, ricocheting off the backboard.
Robinson gave a shrug that was more gee-whiz than Jordanesque, as his dad, NBA legend David Robinson, celebrated in the stands. If the shot had come at the final buzzer, it would’ve put an impossibly well-fitting bow on the season for North Carolina.
“I didn’t realize he was working on his bank shot,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said. “It’s been that kind of year for us.”
Postgame, two different Tar Heels mentioned another Robinson backbreaker: a 3-pointer that took an ugly bounce off the side of the rim and fell in, stretching the lead back out to four. Just prior, a 9-2 run to start the second half had North Carolina blazing a comeback trail. But that’d be as close as the team would get.