Tar Heels’ ACC loss not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Acc Tournament - BY JONATHAN M. ALEXAN­DER jalexan­[email protected]­sob­server.com

North Carolina had to give credit where credit was due.

In part three this sea­son in the UNC-Duke ri­valry, Duke fresh­man Zion Wil­liamson, who missed all but 36 sec­onds of the first two games af­ter sprain­ing his knee, was un­stop­pable Fri­day in the semi­fi­nals of the ACC tour­na­ment.

He scored 31 points, in­clud­ing the game-win­ning put-back layup with 31 sec­onds left. The of­fen­sive re­bound came off Wil­liamson’s own miss, but he was too quick and jumped higher than the rest of North Carolina’s play­ers to cor­ral the re­bound and score.

“The guy that’s been hurt came back and put on his su­per­man jer­sey again and was in­cred­i­ble,” North Carolina coach Roy Wil­liams said.

The Tar Heels led Duke by 13 points with a lit­tle more than six min­utes left in the first half. They ap- peared to be the bet­ter team and looked more con­fi­dent. Wil­liamson started 2 of 6 from the floor. But he made 11 of his last 13 shots to help the Blue Devils grab mo­men­tum and win 74-73.

“He’s a good player, he’s ex­plo­sive, he’s very tal­ented,” UNC se­nior Luke Maye said of Wil­liamson. “But I mean, it comes down to a teamgame, I thought it was a great game and we didn’t have the ball bounce our way.”

The Tar Heels had mul­ti­ple cold stretches in the sec­ond half. Af­ter tak­ing a 65-63 lead with 8:22 left in the game, UNC did not make an­other field goal for nearly five min­utes.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski put Duke re­serve guard Jor­dan Gold­wire on UNC grad­u­ate Cam John­son, who had 16 points in the first half. The move worked. Gold­wire had two steals in 28 min­utes. He held John­son to 3-of-10 shoot­ing in the sec­ond half.

The Tar Heels had trou­ble scor­ing af­ter Duke fi­nally gained mo­men­tum. Their of­fense be­came stag­nant, and the shots they took were of­ten con­tested.

UNC shot 40 per­cent from the floor as a team, and fin­ished 4-of-27 from the 3-point line. Of the five Tar Heels who took more than three shots, none shot above 39 per­cent. The Tar Heels strug­gled from be­hind the 3-point line in the first game against Duke, too, fin­ish­ing 2 of 20. But the dif­fer­ence in that game, was they dom­i­nated in the paint.

In this game, Duke outscored UNC in the paint 50-38. Credit Wil­liamson, who had 22 points in the paint.

“We know we’ve got to get bet­ter on of­fense, that’s pretty clear,” UNC se­nior Kenny Wil­liams said.

The Tar Heels’ loss to Duke snapped an eightgame win­ning streak that in­cluded the two wins over Duke without Wil­liamson. The Tar Heels were also elim­i­nated from the ACC tour­na­ment, as Duke ad­vances to the fi­nals to face No. 4 seed Florida State.

“There’s no re­lief when you lose a game,” John­son said. “And this was one that we wanted to win, this is one that we thought we should win, this is one we could have won.”

Said, Maye: “It’s tough to go out like that. We’ve just got to get bet­ter.”

The loss for the Tar Heels doesn’t mean the end. They lost to Duke, a top five team in the polls, by one point with three shots at the rim to win it. It was also only their sec­ond loss in their last 16 games. And the win­ner of the ACC tour­na­ment does not al­ways win an NCAA ti­tle.

Of the 13 times ACC teams won an NCAA ti­tle in the last 50 years, only six won the ACC tour­na­ment that year. When North Carolina won it all in 2017, the Tar Heels lost to Duke in the semi­fi­nals of the ACC tour­na­ment. The Tar Heels did not win the ACC tour­na­ment in 2005 or 2009, when they won na­tional ti­tles.

“We’ll learn from our mis­takes and those we made in this game, and we’ll use that to pro­pel us to a na­tional cham­pi­onship,” UNC ju­nior wing Brandon Robin­son said. “It’s not the end of the world. You can win six games in the NCAA tour­na­ment and it will change your whole life.”

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