No. 5 Duke endured an 8:41 span without a field goal as it watched an 11-point second-half lead slip away late in a 74-66 loss to North Carolina at the Dean E. Smith Center Thursday night. Marcus Paige scored all 13 of his points in the second half and Leslie McDonald added a game-high 21 for the Tar Heels, who have now won eight straight after starting 1-4 in ACC play.
In that fateful 8:41 drought, the Blue Devils (21-6, 10-4 in the ACC) misfired on 13 consecutive shots, allowing North Carolina to trim a 51-40 lead to 53-51 with 6:26 remaining. But as frigid as the offensive results were, it was a porous second-half Duke defense that allowed the Tar Heels (19-7, 9-4) to fight their way back into the game.
"We were giving them a lot of easy looks and a lot of easy shots," sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon said. "We didn't fight in the second half.... This was a primetime game, marquee matchup. Nobody's going to use [fatigue] as an excuse. We just didn't show up in the second half."
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said his team was missing an "it" factor after halftime as North Carolina rode the wave of its raucous home crowd.
"It just felt that we didn't have the life that we needed to have," Krzyzewski said. "I thought we played young.... 'It.' We didn't have 'it,' whatever the hell that thing is. In the second half 'it' wasn't in our huddle."
After scoring the first 14 points of last year's 69-53 win in Chapel Hill, the Blue Devils found themselves on the other side of a 6-0 score just one minute into the game. Duke committed four turnovers before it made a field goal, but had just one giveaway the rest of the half while forcing the Tar Heels into nine.
In their introductions to the Duke-North Carolina rivalry, the duo of Hood and Parker accounted for 21 of Duke's 37 first-half points. Hood brought the Blue Devils back from the early hole with 11 points in the half's first eight minutes. When the redshirt sophomore picked up his second foul with 12:07 remaining, he handed the reins to Parker, who got a number of high-percentage looks just before halftime, heading to the locker room with 10 points, five rebounds and a seven-point lead for the Blue Devils. Parker finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Hood tallied 16 points but didn't record a board.
Duke's guard trio of Sulaimon, Tyler Thornton and Quinn Cook did all they could to frustrate Paige in the opening frame. The Tar Heels' leading scorer was held scoreless before intermission, committing three turnovers and attempting just two shots. Paige's backcourt mate, the rivalry veteran McDonald, picked up the slack for the Tar Heels, scoring 11 first-half points on 5-of-7 shooting.
Foul trouble became an issue for the Blue Devils trying to contain a bulky North Carolina frontcourt. Amile Jefferson picked up three fouls in the first 20 minutes and by the 14:12 mark in the second period, Hood, Thornton and Marshall Plumlee had joined him. Whether tentative due to the foul situation or simply undersized, the Blue Devils were handled on the boards 43-30, the first time Duke has been outrebounded by double digits since a Jan. 11 loss at Clemson. James Michael McAdoo made the rebounding margin hurt, finishing with 14 points and 10 boards. Thirty-six of North Carolina's 74 points came in the paint.
On the surface, the shooting numbers closely paralleled those from Duke's 69-67 win against Maryland—the Blue Devils were 5-for-22 from beyond the arc Thursday after going 5-of-24 against the Terrapins. But for Krzyzewski, comparisons between the two games ended there.
"There are no similarities [to the Maryland game]," Krzyzewski said. "We played with great emotion against Maryland, otherwise we would've lost.... You're not going to beat [North Carolina] without two halves that are worthy of winning, and we played one half that was worthy of winning."
Despite the shooting woes, Hood said Duke was able to get the shots it wanted, even as the Tar Heels rotated between man-to-man defense and an extended 1-3-1 zone. Some point-blank misses by Parker and Jefferson kept the momentum in North Carolina's corner, and some good looks from distance continued to rim out.
"Sometimes you feel a little tight because the ball's not going in—that's just maturing," Hood said. "We got all the shots we wanted to the whole entire game. They were right there."
In a second half fragmented by foul calls, the Blue Devils lost their offensive rhythm, allowing the Tar Heels to regain momentum. J.P. Tokoto slammed home a Desmond Hubert miss with 10:27 left to cut the Duke lead to 53-49. A layup by McAdoo tied the score at 60 with 4:14 to go, prompting a timeout by Krzyzewski to stop the bleeding. It didn't work, as McDonald buried a jumper to give North Carolina its first lead since of the half.
The fouls continued to pile up for Duke—Parker, Thornton, Jefferson and Plumlee all had four fouls heading into the final four minutes. A much-maligned free-throw shooting team most of the season, the Tar Heels started the game by missing seven of their first eight attempts. The crowd even gave a mock cheer when Tokoto made two in a row. From there, the Tar Heels made 19-of-23 while Duke only got to the line 12 times in the contest, converting on just five attempts.
Freshman Nate Britt showed no nerves in the final minute, knocking down four free throws to help the Tar Heels ice the game away. North Carolina students stormed the floor after the victory, which ended a two-game home skid against the Blue Devils.
With less than 48 hours to absorb the loss and prepare to face No. 1 Syracuse Saturday night, Krzyzewski warned that his team needs to find the missing intangible—quickly.
"If we don't [find 'it'], we're going to get beat on Saturday," he said.