Saturday night was the second meeting of the best rivalry in college basketball as the Tar Heels traveled down the road to try and close out what has been a tough 2019-20 season with a win in Cameron Indoor Stadium. With the Tar Heels feeling confident for one of the first times all season, there was a lot of hope that Roy Williams’ squad could continue the momentum and find a way to upset the Blue Devils. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, Duke was just too much for the Tar Heels, as the Heels fell to the Blue Devils 89-76 to close down the regular season.
Some of the issues that caused so many issues for the Tar Heels throughout the bulk of the season. After sharing the ball extremely well during the three-game winning streak, the Tar Heels finished the night with just seven assists, something that was aided by the lack of movement without the basketball, something that had improved over the past few games. While the Tar Heels corralled 19 offensive rebounds, they resulted in just 18 second chance points, highlighting the struggles the team had finishing at the rim, another staple of their extensive losing streaks.
The other factor that was reminiscent of what we saw during the losing streaks: Cole Anthony’s struggles from the field. The good news is, a lot of this was just because of how talented of an overall defender Tre Jones is. It doesn’t feel like this will carry over into Tuesday’s ACC Tournament opener, but he shot just 4-14 from the field tonight in a game that Carolina needed him to perform at the level that we had seen in the prior three outings. They will need him to quickly regain that form against Virginia Tech, something that shouldn’t be too difficult considering the struggles the Hokies have had this season in the ACC.
The good news is, it wasn’t all bad like a lot of the game the Tar Heels played earlier in the year against opponents of Duke’s caliber. You never really felt like the Tar Heels were out of it until the final two minutes of the game and there were some other factors that were out of the Heels control that helped affect this game, although it is far from the main reason they lost this game. Garrison Brooks may not have been as efficient as some would have liked, but he still scored 25 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, while remaining effective from the foul line going 8-10. After leaving the game at the end of the first half and being declared out by head coach Roy Williams during his halftime interview, Brandon Robinson fought through injury to come back and hit two big three in the second half, having the best perimeter shooting night of anyone on the team.
It’s definitely going to be a tough task, but Saturday night’s loss to the Blue Devils should not ruin any confidence that this team had gained over the prior three games. This a Duke team that, if they play the way they did in this game, has what it takes to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, unfortunately. The task is now laid out for you: take it one game at a time and let's go win five games in five days.
-Armando Bacot had a solid return to the lineup for the Tar Heels on Saturday night, especially with the fact that he played with a noticeable limp for the bulk of the second half. Bacot had two turnovers that were results of him bringing the ball down unnecessarily and there are still some struggles that he is fighting through with finishing strong, but a 13-12 game is hard to be overly displeased with.
-The one thing that didn’t rear its ugly head on Saturday were the turnover problems that plagued Carolina so much early in the year. The Tar Heels turned the ball over just nine times, but the inability to get back in transition did make some of this turnovers even more frustrating than normal.
-The perimeter shooting for Carolina simply wasn’t where it needed to be to win on Saturday. Both Anthony and Christian Keeling struggled from the floor after catching recently and Robinson struggled prior to making his return in the second half. Two of these three will need to be able to regain form in the ACC Tournament if the Tar Heels want to make a run to avoid Carolina’s first losing season since 2001-02.