When all signs pointed toward the page being flipped, the Tar Heels reminded everyone who they truly are.
Heading into round two of the Tobacco Road rivalry, North Carolina had won three straight games and connected on two dozen 3-pointers over its last two outings. Saturday night was set up to be the year’s defining moment — the game where the Tar Heels earned their second Quad One win to seemingly put themselves in the driver's seat to earn an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament.
But with UNC royalty in attendance, and the senior-night red carpet rolled out, North Carolina reverted back to its season-long shooting struggles in a 62-57 loss to Duke.
For head coach Hubert Davis, the lackluster 5-23 clip from beyond the arc wasn’t the most damning part about his team's 30 percent shooting output from the field.
“I thought we had wide open looks from three that we didn’t make,” he said. “But more importantly, I thought we had layups that we missed. We missed a lot of shots around the basket.”
In the first half, Caleb Love raced ahead for what would appeared to be a runaway dunk. As the junior guard rose up, first-year forward Dariq Whitehead slashed Love’s left arm and the shot clanked off the back of the rim. At the charity stripe, Love only converted just one of the ensuing free throw attempts.
Four minutes later, graduate forward Pete Nance worked his way around an Armando Bacot post seal to find an uncontested path to the rim, but the transfer from Northwestern’s slam was rejected by the front of the rim.
Four seemingly guaranteed points turned into only one.
“Like you’ve seen in the past couple of games, sometimes you make shots and sometimes you miss shots,” Nance said. “You know, tonight we definitely didn’t make as many as we wanted to.”
Players denied any sense of tightness throughout the night, but the fashion in which the Tar Heels missed their 3-point attempts might suggest otherwise.
Nance airballed a 3-pointer from the top of the key early in the second half and Leaky Black’s open look moments later careened off the side of the rim. In the same period, Black found himself with another uncontested trey, but instead of releasing off the catch, the graduate forward took a hesitation dribble before chucking another wayward jumper.
According to junior guard RJ Davis, the return of North Carolina’s shooting woes — one that plagued UNC from every crevice of the court against the Blue Devils — is just another etch to what’s already been an unpredictable year.
“It’s just been an up and down season for us — that’s just how it went,” he said. “We hit adversity, we overcame it. We hit it again, and overcame it (again). So it’s just been like a constant thing.”
Many Tar Heels voiced confidence in the talent of North Carolina’s roster and their ability to make a run in next week’s ACC Tournament. Nance even went as far to say that the moment the team clicks, “it can be a really dangerous thing.”
One could argue flashes of North Carolina’s ceiling were shown in impressive wins over Virginia and Florida State. But Saturday seemed to prove such displays may have been just that — subtle flashes.
North Carolina ranks dead last in the ACC in terms of 3-point percentage. Better yet, the Tar Heels don’t roster a single player shooting over a 35 percent clip from downtown.
Scratch the previous two games before Duke. The shooting display — and the end result — on Saturday night is just who North Carolina is and has been all season long.
“We just weren’t hitting shots,” Bacot said. “I mean, we haven’t really hit too many shots all year. I guess that’s just is what it is.”
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