By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — Instead of the greatest rivalry in sports delivering another memorable evening, it delivered North Carolina’s fourth blowout loss of the season.
It was more painful for the Tar Heels than the first three because it was against No. 9 Duke, but was very familiar in an 87–67 Saturday defeat in the Smith Center. The common elements were there again: a hot-shooting opponent (57.6%, the highest against Carolina this season), poor UNC first-half shooting (31.3%), bad defense and the suspension of all hope because of a slow second-half start.
The 28-point deficit with 3:53 left was the third-highest this season behind a 33-point deficit at Miami and a 35-point deficit against Kentucky. The Tar Heels fell to 1–5 this season when an opponent shoots at least 50%.
“I feel like it’s a common thread,” Leaky Black said. “Every blowout is a loss for a reason. It’s not that we’re not prepared. Coach Davis does a great job giving us a game plan and everything.
“Every big game, we feel like it’s gonna be easy just because we’ve got the North Carolina on our chest,” Black said. “But it’s the complete opposite. If it’s going to be North Carolina on our chest, it’s gonna be different. Gonna be everybody’s best game. Especially for Duke, we’ve got to come out and compete. I don’t why we just didn’t come out and play harder.”
When asked how UNC goes about changing that, Black’s response? “That’s a great question.”
The story of Saturday’s game quickly took a bad turn when Armando Bacot was assigned to guard star Duke freshman Paolo Banchero.
Three minutes into the game, Bacot had two fouls, the Blue Devils (19–3, 9–3) led 13–2 and UNC (16–7, 8–4) never recovered after trailing by as many as 23 points in the first half. It was the first time this season that the Tar Heels never led in a game.
UNC coach Hubert Davis said that he didn’t see any good defensive matchups against Banchero coming into the game, so he put Bacot on him.
“I really believe in Armando, he’s a really good defensive player,” Davis said. “He also has size. And, so, one of the things that I was thinking about was, with Armando’s size, it would limit Paolo. [Banchero] can be successful out there on the perimeter, but limit him out on the perimeter as opposed to posting up.”
Black took the defensive assignment on Banchero when Bacot came out and kept him scoreless for the rest of the first half as well as blocking one of his shots early in the second half.
But, with plenty of other Blue Devils weapons, mainly A.J. Griffin (career-high 27 points), and UNC players not named Brady Manek struggling to score, it was a hopeless battle to rally. Banchero finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds, Wendell Moore Jr. scored 13 and Trevor Keels had 11.
“They shot it well at the start, kind of got us out of our rhythm offensively,” Manek said. “Armando getting those two fouls, it definitely took a toll on us early. We fought back in it. Like to see our fight and like to see us playing together.”
Manek scored 21 points and six 3-pointers but Caleb Love’s struggles continued. He scored eight points and one 3-pointer and is 13 of 40 from 3-point range since going 3 of 5 against Georgia Tech.
Bacot finished with three fouls but only 12 points and five rebounds. RJ Davis scored 11 and Kerwin Walton pitched in five off the bench.
Coach Davis said that Duke’s defensive pressure had a lot to do with Love and RJ Davis combining to go 7 of 21 from the floor with only six assists.
“In order to change sides of the floor to be able to run our offense, you’re going to have to create space,” Coach Davis said. “You’re going to have to make contact to be able to create that space to be able to catch the ball. We weren’t able to do that. Their pressure on the ball bothered us to the point that we couldn’t even get into our offense. Their pressure on the ball made it really difficult for Caleb and RJ to not only create shots but to get into our offense.”
Duke shot 55.2% in the first half and were in control throughout the night.
“After the first five minutes or so, we were chipping away, playing hard,” Manek said. “We just didn’t get stops today; we didn’t score well offensively. They played better than us.”
UNC was 1 of its first 7 before a Manek 3-pointer. By the time the Tar Heels scored again on a Bacot bucket more than 4½ minutes later, they trailed 31–10. With Bacot sitting for more than seven first-half minutes, Duke scored 18 points inside in the first half.
“We just started panicking,” Black said. “You know, we got punched in the mouth. We just started going back to the stuff we were doing at the beginning of the season. It made it tough on us. We’re not gonna win games like that. We’ve got to play together, buy in defensively and we’ve just got to compete.”
A Manek 3-pointer capped a 15–6 run as UNC took advantage of a 4½-minute field goal drought to trim Duke’s lead to 37–23 with 2:53 left. Carolina outscored the Blue Devils 20–8 in the last 9:59 of the first half and trailed 39–28 at halftime.
Griffin scored the first 10 second-half points to push the lead back to 21 three minutes after halftime. By the time UNC scored its first second-half points on a short Love jumper, it ended a 12–0 Duke run.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski finished 17–19 in the Smith Center, which is the second-best with at least five games behind Virginia’s Tony Bennett (4–4).
UNC heads to Clemson in pursuit of an elusive Quad 1 victory at 6 p.m. Tuesday (ACC Network). The Tigers (12–10, 4–7) lost 69–64 at Georgia Tech on Saturday.
No. 9 Duke 87, UNC 67
UNC season statistics
day, time, TV
|5||83–55 exhibition win||Home||Elizabeth City State|
|9||83–67 win, 1–0||Home||Loyola Maryland|
|12||94–87 win, 2–0||Home||Brown|
|16||94–83 win, 3–0||Road||College of Charleston|
|20||93–84 loss, 3–1||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 4 Purdue|
|21||89–72 loss, 3–2||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 22 Tennessee|
|23||72–53 win, 4–2||Home||UNC Asheville|
|December (5–1, 1-0 ACC)|
|1||72–51 win, 5–2||Home||X — Michigan|
|5||79–62 win, 6–2, 1-0 ACC||Road||Georgia Tech|
|11||80–63 win, 7–2 ACC||Home||Elon|
|14||74–61 win, 8–2 ACC||Home||Furman|
|18||98–69 loss, 8–3 ACC||Las Vegas||Z — No. 5 Kentucky|
|21||70–50 win, 9–3 ACC||Home||Appalachian State|
|January (6–3, 6–3 ACC)|
|2||91–65 win, 10–3, 2-0 ACC||Road||Boston College|
|5||78–73 loss, 10–4, 2-1 ACC||Road||Notre Dame|
|8||74–58 win, 11–4, 3–1 ACC||Home||Virginia|
|15||88–65 win, 12–4, 4–1 ACC||Home||Georgia Tech|
|18||85–57 loss, 12–5, 4–2 ACC||Road||Miami|
|22||98–76 loss, 12–6, 4–3 ACC||Road||Wake Forest|
|24||78–68 win, 13–6, 5–3 ACC||Home||Virginia Tech|
|26||58–47 win, 14–6, 6–3 ACC||Home||Boston College|
|29||100–80 win, 15–6, 7–3 ACC||Home||N.C. State|
|February (1–1 1–1 ACC)|
|1||90–82 OT win, 16–6, 8–3 ACC||Road||Louisville|
|5||87–67 loss, 16–7, 8–4 ACC||Home||No. 9 Duke|
|8||Tuesday, 6, ACCN||Road||Clemson|
|12||Saturday, 2, ESPN or ESPN2||Home||Florida State|
|16||Wednesday, 8, ACCN||Home||Pittsburgh|
|19||Saturday, 4, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||Virginia Tech|
|21||Monday, 7, ESPN||Home||Louisville|
|26||Saturday, 2 or 4, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||N.C. State|
|28||Monday, 7, ESPN||Home||Syracuse|
|5||Saturday, 6, ESPN||Road||No. 9 Duke|
Photo via @UNC_Basketball