CHAPEL HILL—After blowing an early 19-point lead, Duke still had the opportunity to come out with a win against rival North Carolina, up by eight with less than a minute and a half left to play. 

But four missed free throws and a series of defensive breakdowns by the Blue Devils kept the Tar Heels in striking distance and eventually led to North Carolina forcing an overtime and stealing the game away from Duke. 

Duke headed back to Durham with a stunning 92-86 defeat at the hands of North Carolina, losing yet another conference road game to an unranked team. Redshirt sophomore Haley Gorecki’s career-high 29 points on seven threes were not enough, as the Blue Devils’ typically stifling zone defense loosened up for the second straight game. After a lackluster win at Virginia Tech last Thursday, the Blue Devils again failed to keep up the defensive pressure for the whole 40 minutes, plus a five-minute extra session Sunday.

“We didn’t learn too much from Virginia Tech. It was a similar kind of game where we gave up penetration and kicks and we didn’t communicate on defense as much,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “We didn’t shot contest as well, so it was a similar, very similar kind of game. So those are lessons we have to learn and get better from.”

In the first quarter, it seemed as though Duke’s defense would allow it to run away with the game. North Carolina had a lot of trouble in finding the bottom of the net, shooting 27.8 percent from the field in the first quarter. Graduate student Lexie Brown also began the game firing on all cylinders, scoring 14 points with two triples of her own.

Near the end of the first quarter and for the rest of the game, though, North Carolina redshirt junior Paris Kea took control, scoring when her team needed it most and helping shut down Brown on the defensive side. Kea led all scorers with 36 points and hit the game-tying 3-pointer to send the game into overtime. She also stifled Duke’s offense, holding Brown to just five second-half points.

“We didn’t adjust. I thought that zone gave us some issues, but again, I could have knocked down some shots and limited my turnovers for sure, but that was the biggest thing,” Brown said. “We were calm and collected in their man-to-man and then their zone kind of made us come out of ourselves a little bit.”

McCallie credited North Carolina’s defense in forcing her team to commit an inexcusable 26 turnovers for the game. This is not the first time turnovers have caused problems for the Blue Devils. Duke is currently averaging more than 15 turnovers a game, a number too high for a team wanting to make a deep tournament run. The team’s carelessness with the ball affected its demeanor throughout the Tar Heels’ comeback.

“Yeah, they played hard and scrappy without question...I think we got affected by things, and I don’t like it,” McCallie said. “There is a lack of focus, and that needs to be addressed by everybody.” 

As Duke moves through its ACC gauntlet, it needs to focus on keeping up intensity for the entirety of the game. This goes for both sides of the ball and begins with the team veterans and captains—Brown and graduate student Rebecca Greenwell. If the Blue Devils are to get better at closing out games, they must stay active on defense and be smart and disciplined with the ball on offense. 

“You have to credit Carolina. They played hard. They trapped, they found a way to get in our pass angles or help us make those turnovers,” McCallie said. “No team ever should have 26 turnovers. They didn’t even press us full-court.”

Shooting 65.2 percent from the charity stripe as it did against North Carolina won’t help Duke’s chances, as doing so gave the Tar Heels an opening to come back and win the game. Inconsistencies on offense and defense stopped Duke from increasing its winning streak to five. 

“We had some scrappy moments, but they punched at us and we got outside of ourselves,” McCallie said. “That’s not a pleasant feeling. We have to give them credit and take the lesson and think about it and get better for it.”

The Blue Devils have until Thursday to learn from their mistakes as they face Boston College in another ACC battle at Cameron Indoor Stadium.