DURHAM, N.C. -- Hubert Davis said he wasn’t making excuses on Saturday, he was "just stating facts".
Davis spoke for seven minutes following UNC’s 63-57 loss to Duke. In a postgame press conference filled with numerous lengthy pauses — some so exaggerated that the far reverberations of the Cameron Indoor Stadium cleaning crew cut through the silence — Davis mentioned free throws six times.
Free throws have become a staple for UNC this year. The Tar Heels go to the line more often than any other team in the ACC. They’ve taken 200 more free-throw shots than their opponents this season, and 130 more than Duke. North Carolina generates nearly a quarter of its offense from the charity stripe, averaging 24 free-throw attempts per game.
So when UNC made just two trips to the line against Duke, Davis was quick to point it out.
“You answer it,” he said when a reporter asked why his team didn’t shoot more free throws. “We attacked the basket.”
The frustration was most evident just before halftime. With 20 seconds left in the opening half, Duke first-year center Kyle Filipowski smacked North Carolina graduate forward Pete Nance’s hand as he lifted up for a baseline jumper. Nance ran back down the court, but not before turning around to protest the call.
Davis, watching from the sidelines, turned around and clapped his hands emphatically. He was irate. Swinging his fists, he jumped up and down, kicked his legs and yelled. A chorus of UNC assistant coaches joined in behind him.
One media timeout later and Davis was still talking things over with the referees. With his left arm draped over the shoulder of referee Bert Smith, he continued to make his point and appeared to yell that Duke had only been called for four fouls in the half.
The Tar Heels then entered the locker room and planned a new method of attack for the second half. Armando Bacot said the plan was to get Filipowski in ball screens and drive to the basket.
The result of North Carolina’s adjusted strategy was the same, if not worse. UNC didn’t shoot a single free throw in the second half. Not only did this limit a significant portion of the Tar Heels’ offensive production, but the lack of calls on the Blue Devils aided Duke’s ability to ice the game.
“They did an incredible job executing down the stretch,” Duke head coach Jon Scheyer said. “We only had four fouls. They called a timeout, so we just went for the ball and made them set up the play two more times and then they had to take it under (the basket) and out of bounds. That’s a small thing you might not see, but for us to execute that on defense is big-time growth.”
The Tar Heels, much like their head coach, weren’t making excuses after the loss.
Armando Bacot, Leaky Black and Caleb Love all credited the physicality of first-year Dereck Lively II and Duke’s secondary defense. Lively recorded eight blocks — the most by a Blue Devil in a UNC-Duke game.
“You’re just trying to keep him (Lively) off the glass,” Black said. “If you don’t get inside, he’s a big guy, he’s already up there. Just his presence defensively really altered a lot of shots in the paint.”
The Tar Heels didn’t whine about being fouled, but rather, acknowledged that they didn’t execute properly.
Love said he’ll be watching film in the following days, reflecting on how he can drive and dish more effectively. Bacot said he’s encouraged by the teachable moments in UNC’s past two recent losses. Black put it much more simply — “sometimes the ball just don’t bounce your way.”
Who knows if the outcome would’ve been different if the whistle had been blown a few more times? Would that have changed the 20-2 advantage that the Blue Devils had in transition? Would a call or two help UNC hit any of its six missed 3-pointers down the stretch?
“The stat that I’m looking at is, going into the game, we’ve shot more free throws than any other opponent in our conference,” he said. “We shot three. Zero in the second half.”
That's the stat that Davis wanted to illuminate after the game, but it probably isn't the reason UNC lost.
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