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One word for Duke men's basketball vs. North Carolina: Unsatisfactory

The Blue Devils were punched right out of the gate Saturday, but couldn't punch back in their 91-73 loss to North Carolina.
The Blue Devils were punched right out of the gate Saturday, but couldn't punch back in their 91-73 loss to North Carolina.

The Blue Zone is here to recap North Carolina's drubbing of the Blue Devils in just a single word:

One word: Unsatisfactory

After two consecutive losses in overtime, Duke moved its focus to the Battle of Tobacco Road, the greatest rivalry in college sports. This year, however, Duke traveled to Chapel Hill in an atypical situation for the five-time national champions—on the NCAA Tournament bubble, desperately needing a win against its I-40 rival. The basketball gods, however, had a different plan in mind. Duke missed its first four shots from the field and the Tar Heels capitalized on early Blue Devil turnovers, storming out to a 26-6 lead.

Slow starts have plagued the young Blue Devils all season, but this loss was noticeably different. Last night, Duke looked flat. Matthew Hurt, who entered the contest averaging over 45% from deep, went 2-10 from 3-point land. Wendell Moore pitched in just 8 points. As a team, Duke shot under 38% from the field in the first half and went an abysmal 5-27 from three throughout the entire contest.

But the story of the night is not the slow start by Duke, nor is it the Blue Devils finishing the regular season without a winning record for the first time since 1994-1995. A much more important streak is at stake—Duke’s 24 consecutive tournament appearances, the second-longest active streak in Division 1. In the wake of yesterday's loss, Duke’s fringe tournament hopes appear even more bleak. The Tar Heels have all but bursted the Blue Devils' tournament bubble. Duke, who enters next week’s ACC tournament as the No. 10 seed, will need to win five games in five days to guarantee its 25th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. Could it happen? Sure, Duke could theoretically win the ACC’s automatic bid, but the prospects look very slim. The Blue Devils will need to ride hot shooting from the ACC’s leading scorer in Hurt, along with solid performances by Moore, Mark Williams and the freshmen backcourt duo of Jeremy Roach and DJ Steward. 

One stat: 12 minutes to crack double digits

Despite the game seeming to be a complete destruction of the Blue Devils from start to finish, what really killed Duke was its inability to hit double digits in the first 12 minutes of the game. Duke trailed 26-8 at the 8:46 mark of the first half, ultimately losing by that same point differential. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski knows his team cannot succeed when starting slow. Despite a solid start to the second half for the Blue Devils, the Tar Heels quickly took control and kept a steady lead. 

Though this stat stands out among the rest, Duke struggled horribly from beyond the arc, shooting 5-for-27. The Blue Devils also had 15 turnovers and shot nearly 15% worse than North Carolina from the field. Thus, each of these stats deserve honorable mention and contributed to the Blue Devils' loss.

One player: Mark Williams

Since entering 2021, Mark Williams has emerged as a Duke player to look out for and has made significant growth throughout the second half of the season. He led the Blue Devils in points against UNC, but his presence was more than that. As most of his points came from electrifying dunks, he brought the few sparks of positivity that Duke was able to generate. 

Although Williams’ 18 points led the Blue Devils, three Tar Heels had 18 themselves, showing just how much Duke struggled on the offensive end. Caleb Love, Kerwin Walton, and Armando Bacot dominated offensively, and Garrison Brooks, who had 14 points on his senior night, provided some help as well. Overall, Duke missed a true leader on the floor, with no single player having a performance worthy of leading the Blue Devils to a win or anywhere close to one. The Tobacco Road rivalry missed the passion Duke often brings to the game and the Tar Heels celebrated big on their senior night. 

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