"It's tough to explain, but there was something missing," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "My mom makes really good food and she doesn't do it all by recipe. If something is missing, she knows it and she can add it. We knew it, but we didn't know how to add it today. I don't know if that's a Polock response or whatever, but something we couldn't get. And Carolina didn't cooperate by playing poorly-they played well."
While Krzyzewski's quote is one of the most far-fetched comparisons ever uttered in a press conference, it somehow is an extremely accurate comment on Duke's 84-78 loss to North Carolina. Arch-rival North Carolina was in the building, Duke was playing for a third-place tie in the Atlantic Coast Conference after finishing in last place last year and the Cameron Crazies had been camping out for two weeks. But for most of the game the Blue Devils were missing the fire which the nation had seen in their last five games.
It was obvious from the start as it took Duke 4:11 to put its first point on the board and that came from the free throw line. It wasn't until the 15:13 point that the Blue Devils were able to score from the floor when sophomore Ricky Price finally knocked down a jumper. Before that moment, however, UNC had taken an 8-1 lead on the sharp shooting of center Serge Zwikker who had already scored six points. Duke made a run and tied the game up at 11 and again at 13, but then Zwikker started another run to put UNC up 21-13.
"I don't think we were flat in that I think we came out and we wanted to win," junior Jeff Capel said. "We didn't come with the same kind of emotion today. I think we were hoping to feed off the crowd instead of going out there and playing to make things happen. I don't think we were flat, we just got down a little bit because we weren't hitting our shots."
Duke's frustration from the field was evident and hurt the team in all aspects of its game. The Blue Devils hit only 7-of-27 shots from the field for 25.9 percent, but even worse they appeared so tense and out of their game that they managed only 41.7 percent from the foul line in the first half and 56 percent for the game. The offense was out of sync, earning only three assists in the first half and the Blue Devils were completely outhustled on the boards 22-13, including seven offensive boards to the Tar Heels.
"Our kids have been playing with so much emotion over the second half of the year," Krzyzewski said. "They're trying like crazy. But all of that just wasn't there completely today, but that's nobody's fault. I'm proud of our team and I really appreciate what our students did in what they did to make this a big event. The last few weeks in Cameron have been just like old times."
It's important to note that Duke never gave up, and at times looked as if it was ready to rout Carolina, but it was clear in the second half that UNC was ready to take this game from Duke. The Blue Devils closed within one point with 15:15 left, two points with 9:37 remaining and hung within three with only 5:50 in the game. Each time, however, North Carolina buried a jumper to pull away before Duke could take the lead and feed off of the crowd. The biggest Blue Devil momentum killer was sophomore Shammond Williams, who scored 19 second-half points.
"They came out very strong at the beginning of the second half," UNC head coach Dean Smith said. "Each time they seemed to be rallying, the crowd was getting into it, we would come up with a big shot."
"I thought Williams was sensational," Krzyzewski said. "His shots, a few of them at the end of the clock when we're coming back-some points are deceiving, some points are bigger than others-and I thought his points were huge."
The final big blow came when senior captain Chris Collins was forced out of the game with an ankle injury. Collins had already totaled 18 points when he went to the sideline with 13:55 left in the game. After having his foot taped on the sideline he attempted to return to the game, but he only made it for a few moments before having to come back off the floor. Capel, Duke's co-captain, took over the game, keeping Duke in the game for as long as possible, but as Collins limped off the floor the Blue Devils saw victory slowly limp away.
The mass substitution of walk-ons made a run that brought Duke back to within five points in the closing seconds of the game, but even that was not enough for a Blue Devil victory.
"Our walk-ons came in there and fought like crazy and really strange things happened, we had a shot at winning," Krzyzewski said. "That's all we want, we want an opportunity to be there until it's over. That's what this team has done all year long."
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The frustrating thing is that in the last two meetings UNC has done the things that Duke needs to do to win. The last thing anyone ever wants to say is for Duke to emulate Carolina, but in this case it would only help. The Tar Heels walked into a stadium where they were a hated rival and a three-point underdog and proceeded to strut around like they owned the place.
It was obvious that McInnis was the most despised player on the floor by Duke fans, but instead of backing off he relished the fact. Cameron Crazies can chant want they want, and they are most likely right when it comes to his behavior, but he won the game for UNC Sunday afternoon. McInnis hit his three-pointers, drives and free throws, and the point guard grabbed seven rebounds as one of the smallest players on the court. He bounced back from a poor first half and sparked UNC both offensively and defensively.
"McInnis is going to be McInnis," Price said about McInnis' behavior at the end of the game. "He does whatever it takes for his team to win. If that's what he likes to do, then that's what he does."
Talking trash and starting fights is not Duke's style, and hopefully it won't become it, but Duke needs to find the edge it had against UCLA. Price needs to talk trash after a big alley-oop, Collins and sophomore Steve Wojciechowski need to slap the floor for a call to defense and Cameron needs to stop worrying about McInnis' social life and just scream. Duke has emotion, but if it wants its season to continue it will have to find the type of intensity where no matter what team is on the floor and what its lead is, the Blue Devils will find a way to win.