Tar Heels focus on positives, redemption after loss to Duke

While its easy for UNC to dismiss Thursdays loss to Duke because of the venue, the emotion of the rivalry and Isaiah Hicks injury, the flaws that were exposed cant simply be explained away by sayingthey made more plays than we did.

Mark Dolejs—USA Today Sports
Feb 9

Joel Berry was understandably disappointed and apologetic Thursday night after North Carolina’s 86-78 loss to Duke at Cameron Stadium.The junior point guard was also remarkably upbeat despite his team dropping the ultimate rivalry game by failing to produce a field goal in the final 2:58″It’s just one loss,” Berry said. “I know every game means something, but at the same time we can’t hang our heads just because it’s a big rivalry and we wanted to win it not only for ourselves but our fans.”That’s the great thing about basketball. You lose some, you win some. But you always have the chance to come back and redeem yourself.”The Tar Heels (21-5, 9-3 ACC) will have to wait at least until next Wednesday, when they travel to NC State, before getting their first chance at returning to the win column. They’ll have to wait even longer, until the final day of the regular season on March 4, to get another shot at the Blue Devils.The fact that they were already looking ahead in the moments after their most disheartening defeat of the season rather dwelling on the events that had just taken place, is a positive sign considering the gauntlet that awaits them over the final four weeks of the regular season.While it’s easy to dismiss Thursday’s loss because of the venue, the emotion of the rivalry and the extenuating circumstance of Isaiah Hicks’ injury — which forced UNC to play without one of its best inside scoring and rebounding threats — the flaws that were exposed can’t simply be dismissed by saying “they just made more plays than we did.”That’s especially true since the Tar Heels suffered some of the same problems, especially on defense, as they did in previous ACC losses at Miami and Georgia Tech. They’re issues they’ll have to address and quickly with a closing stretch that includes two games against Virginia, a home game against Louisville and a trip to Pittsburgh in addition to those upcoming rivalry showdowns against State and Duke.”At this point we’ve got to realize that we can’t keep talking about the same things,” senior guard Nate Britt said. “We have to do it. Every loss, it’s been because our defense hasn’t been what it’s needed to be.”UNC allowed Duke to shoot 52.6 percent from the floor and gave perimeter shooters Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard so many open looks from the perimeter that they made a blistering 9 of 17 between them from beyond the 3-point arc.The Blue Devils also battled the Tar Heels to a virtual standoff on the board, a fact that can only partially be attributed to Hicks’ absence. UNC came into the game leading the nation in rebound margin.While the Tar Heels stayed in the game by shooting better than 52 percent themselves, their chances at winning slipped away at the end when they suddenly went cold from both the floor and the free throw line and were outscored 16-7 over the final seven minutes.”If we want to be a championship team, we’ve got to get stops,” junior wing Theo Pinson said.”You can’t depend on offense. Offense is too hit-or-miss,” Britt added. “Throughout the season defense can be consistent if you only put the effort in, make the right switches and play smart. If we want to win out and try to get a one seed [to the NCAA tournament], it has to happen now.”As much as that sense of urgency will be needed for the stretch run that’s just beginning, as Berry pointed out, there were still plenty of encouraging signs to be found amid the disappointment of Thursday’s loss.For one, Pinson returned from a foot injury that cost him the three previous games to record six points, a team-leading seven rebounds and three assists. Freshman point guard Seventh Woods made his most meaningful contribution since the start of the ACC schedule by making two of his three shots and handing out four assists with no turnovers in seven minutes.Williams also said he liked the competitiveness of his team, even when things didn’t go according to plan.”I thought we were focused and bad plays didn’t affect us,” the UNC coach said. “They just kept getting the ball, moving it and competing.”Maintaining that kind of effort consistently will be a key factor for the Tar Heels as they attempt to pick themselves back up and prevent any further stumbles through their tough closing schedule. After Thursday’s loss, they should at least have plenty of motivation to carry them through to the end of the regular season.”They were just better than us tonight,” sophomore forward Luke Maye said. “We’ll get them back at our place.”