It was a game North Carolina needed to win, it was a game North Carolina led by double figures, and it was a game North Carolina led by seven with 98 seconds to go.
And yet, the No. 15 Tar Heels (18-8, 8-5) lost to No. 4 Duke (23-3, 10-3) at Cameron Indoor Stadium, 92-90, in overtime Wednesday.
“They just fell apart,” CBSSports.com college basketball columnist Gary Parrish said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Not to use a cliche, but they took their so-called foot off the so-called gas. They didn’t try to win the game; they tried to run the clock out – and it back-fired on them.”
Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook scored 22 points apiece for Duke, combining for eight three-pointers, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.
“Tyus Jones was terrific at the end of regulation,” Parrish said. “But the truth is, I don’t care how god the other team is. If you’re up nine with 2:30 to play and seven with (less than two minutes to go), you’re supposed to win that game, whether you’re playing Duke or Duquesne, whether you’re playing in Cameron Indoor or anywhere else. This is one that, quite simply, North Carolina let get away from them.”
North Carolina shot 36-of-73 (49.3 percent) from inside the arc but just 2-of-10 (20 percent) outside of it. The Tar Heels also shot just 12-of-20 (60 percent) from the foul line.
Forwards Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto combined for 51 points on 22-of-35 shooting (71.4 percent) for UNC. Justin Jackson and Marcus Paige, however, combined for seven points on 3-of-19 shooting (15.8 percent).
How does a team with so much talent, especially around the basket, have eight losses?
“I think a lot of it has to do with the perimeter play,” Parrish said. “Obviously they’re good enough around the bucket. They’re terrific inside the arc. They’ve got good enough bigs even if (they don’t have) anybody quite as good as Jahlil Okafor. Marcus Paige is an All-American but hasn’t been first-team All-American good this particular season. And outside of that, there’s not much help from the perimeter. He can make a shot, but nobody else on the team really can, and so then it just causes problems. You can clog up driving lanes, (and) you can sag off of shooters. That’s been the main issue.
“But if you could forget how it happened tonight, pretty good performance,” Parrish continued. “If you tell North Carolina you go into Cameron, you play Duke to overtime and lost by a bucket, you go, ‘You know what? They competed. They played well. Now just go finish the regular season strong.’ But as you pointed out, when you’re up the way they’re up at the end of regulation, you’re supposed to win the game. So it feels deflating.”
After the game, Roy Williams said he was happy with the effort his players gave. They had some open shots that they simply didn’t knock down.
“He was mostly satisfied with the way his kids played,” Parrish said. “They just fell apart at the end.”