No. 5 Tar Heels moving on after Duke loss

North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall spent the hours after the

shocking loss to rival Duke reliving the little plays – a missed

free throw here, a just-out-of-reach rebound there – that all

became so much bigger once Austin Rivers’ last-second 3-pointer

swished through the net.

Teammate Reggie Bullock scribbled the score on a scrap of paper,

ripped it up and threw it away in a symbolic effort to move on.

No matter how each player handled the aftermath, the Tar Heels

know they’re still in a three-way tie atop the Atlantic Coast

Conference with Duke and Florida State. And they can’t stew over

Wednesday night’s 85-84 loss any longer with No. 19 Virginia coming

to the Smith Center on Saturday.

”I think once the emotions came down for everybody, we realized

it’s not the end of the world,” Marshall said Friday. ”We’re

going to be fine. It’s just a matter of focusing on the next

game.”

Regardless of how easy Marshall makes it sound, the Tar Heels

(20-4, 7-2) aren’t likely to just shrug off the loss. They ran out

to a 13-point lead early in the second half, appeared close to

blowing the game open several times and led by 10 with 2 1/2

minutes left.

Yet Duke staged an improbable rally, ending with a shot that

will be replayed for years in permanent rotation among the biggest

highlights from the fierce rivalry. It was North Carolina’s first

home loss in nearly two years, ending a school-record 31-game home

winning streak.

”The only good you can take from it is to become more

determined,” UNC coach Roy Williams said afterward. ”You ought to

be ticked off. You ought to be flat-out ticked off and that’s the

best language I can use. If you start wallowing in the sorrow for

yourself and feeling frickin’ sorry for yourself, you ought to just

go home.

”My team better by god come back and decide they’re going to be

better. We lost a game that we could have won. If we don’t learn

something from that and come back and be more determined, then I’ve

got the wrong group. And I don’t think I have the wrong

group.”

The Tar Heels will be without freshman P.J. Hairston due to a

sore left foot against the Cavaliers (19-4, 6-3). The school said

Hairston was wearing a protective boot Friday and that he would

miss practice that afternoon.

The 6-foot-5 reserve is averaging about seven points, but he has

struggled with his shot. He entered the year expected to bolster

the team’s perimeter play, but he’s shooting just 22 percent (10

for 46) from the field and 17 percent (6-for-35) from behind the

arc in ACC play.

He played 10 minutes but didn’t score against the Blue

Devils.

Hairston’s injury further cuts into the Tar Heels’ rapidly

vanishing backcourt depth. They lost starter Dexter Strickland –

the team’s top perimeter defender and No. 2 ball handler – to a

season-ending knee injury last month. They were already without

Leslie McDonald, last year’s top outside shooter, due to an

offseason knee injury.

”This is just more adversity that we have to fight through,”

Marshall said. ”Numbers are thin right now, obviously. I believe

one of Coach’s rules is you’re not allowed to get hurt now.”

The Tar Heels don’t have much margin for error if they want to

win a second straight ACC regular-season crown. They lost by 33 at

Florida State in the only meeting between the schools, so the

Seminoles will hold a head-to-head tiebreaker. They also have road

games at Miami (6-3 in the ACC), nearby rival North Carolina State

(7-3) and Virginia.

They close the regular season by traveling to Cameron Indoor

Stadium for the rematch with the Blue Devils on March 3.

”We’ve just got to prepare for March,” Bullock said. ”We wish

we could’ve won that game, but we can’t get that game back so we’ve

just got to look forward to the next game coming up.”