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
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
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
”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
”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
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
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.”