UNC-Duke: The Good & Bad

Maybe that loud thud emanating from Atlanta last week was North Carolina hitting rock bottom in a 20-point loss at Georgia Tech after all. Even though UNC's losing streak has reached five, the Tar Heels have clearly picked up their intensity and focus in the last two games, the second of which was Wednesday's 83-74 loss at archrival Duke.

Here is a look the good and the bad from Carolina's 10th loss in 21 games overall and sixth in eight Atlantic Coast Conference contests.


Raymond Felton – What a warrior! Felton took another giant step toward becoming a great player with one of the most remarkable individual efforts I have seen in some time. And what made this even more amazing is that his individual performance was sensational and yet he still played excellent team basketball. He finished with 25 points and four assists and was the main reason UNC had a chance to win with five minutes left. The poise, self-assurance and coolness he played with were impressive.

Jawad Williams – Williams is literally growing up before everyone's eyes. Matt Doherty spoke about how Williams has grown up as a man as much as a basketball player, and UNC's players also spoke about his leadership and personal strength. Since his three-point game at N.C. State, Williams is averaging 22.3 points per night. He fought hard at Cameron, scoring 19 points and hauling down eight rebounds. He also had four assists and no turnovers, an area he has improved on a great deal since December.

David Noel – Few thought Noel could put together consecutive excellent performances, especially against competition like Wake and Duke. He followed up his 14-point, eight-rebound game against Wake with 19 points and seven rebounds versus the Blue Devils. His tremendous athletic ability and explosiveness on both ends of the floor have finally been unleashed, and he is playing with confidence. The real positive here is that when Rashad McCants is back in full gear UNC will have much more depth than it did before Noel climbed out of his shell. It also might behoove the fans to not place ridiculously high expectations on him as well. He's still a freshman and has just recently turned his full-time focus on hoops.

Matt Doherty – Doherty deserves a lot of credit for getting the Heels prepared on both ends of the floor. Offensively, Carolina was wise to use the high post and try to go back door against Duke's overplaying defense. He also instilled an attack mentality in the players, and it worked. Defensively, he did yet another terrific job scouting and prepping the team. Duke eventually shot 40 percent from 3-point range, but overall were at 43.8%, a workable number given UNC's work on offense. Some may question his use of the bench, not playing Will Johnson and even Jonathan Holmes a few minutes to keep the Heels fresher toward the end of the game, but that is debatable. While Johnson deserves playing time, the fatigue issue wasn't really a factor here. Missed free throws, a rebounding difference of 11, and a 6:22 stretch late in the game with UNC scoring just one basket was. And before you cite that as an example of fatigue it's best to realize UNC does this nearly every game, with there being absolutely no consistency as to when they go into a funk.

Rashad McCants – McCants apparently responded positively to his benching on Sunday and was ready to play. But a bad back, which wasn't part of the equation on Sunday, limited his playing time to just 19 minutes. He scored a season-low two points and ended his UNC freshman record of scoring in double figures in his first 20 games. By asking to play in the high post he proved Doherty's message sent over the weekend was well received.

Attack mentality – Carolina's attack mentality was the only way to approach this game and it worked. The Heels attacked from the point, wings and along the baseline. They converted nice passes inside and had at least four kick outs from the paint to the perimeter for assists.

Spacing – One reason the Heels had success attacking was because of excellent spacing spreading the Devils to create more isolated one-on-one situations, either on or off the ball. This enabled the Heels to get more open cuts to the basket and forced the Devils to reach more than usual, which is why they were whistled for 21 fouls with wing guard Daniel Ewing fouling out with 6:27 left in the game.

Defense – Carolina's defense did a terrific job closing passing lanes and not allowing the Devils to get open cutting to the basket or in good shooting position. Instead of trapping, UNC opted to stay in a tight man-to-man, playing denial defense further than usual from the basket. The strategy generally worked. UNC's defense created 18 points off turnovers, which is far more than what has been the norm of late.

Poise – The Tar Heels played with tremendous poise on both ends of the floor. For the youngest team in the nation to handle that wild environment as they did while playing against a veteran team (the Blue Devils aren't young if they get 39 and 31 minutes from seniors, 37 and 15 from juniors, and 27 from a sophomore) is a real testament to their growing maturity and their focus.

Close - Doherty knew after last night that the loss at Tech was an aberration and that his team is close to turning the corner, even without Sean May, and this just two games removed from his worst coached game at UNC. When McCants is healthy and mentally ready to play UNC will likely win some of these games it has been losing. And with battles up next with FSU and Virginia at home, at Clemson and N.C. A&T at home, it wouldn't be a shock to see Carolina 15-10 overall and 5-6 in the ACC, which would put the Tar Heels back in the running for an NCAA bid.


Free throw shooting – The Tar Heels were awful again from the line. They were just 10-19, with Jackie Manuel missing all five of his attempts. This shouldn't surprise folks because it has been an issue in most games.

Ugly stretch once again – Carolina led 58-53 with 11:22 left in the game, and by the time 6:22 had run off the clock, the Tar Heels trailed 66-61. To go on and on about this would be overkill, as it has been well documented after nearly every game. But the fact remains it is more than coincidence that this happens. The offense needs tweaking, even the way they played on Wednesday. No mater what a slump is inevitable, meaning UNC usually has about 33-35 minutes to beat an opponent that gets 40 minutes.

Rebounding – Duke is not a quality rebounding team yet outboarded the Tar Heels, 43-32, including a 17-12 advantage on the offensive glass. In fact, the Blue Devils scored 15 second-chance points, nine in the second half. This may have had more to do with UNC using a small lineup (no Sanders with Williams as the only big man on the floor) as much as anything. Regardless they still were beaten on the glass.

Rashad McCants – McCants' back injury clearly affected his game. He was unable to explode in the paint and had little lift on his jumper, which is why it was either too long (overcompensating with an extra push) or too short (just didn't have enough on it). He was also unable to get out of situations somewhat created by his injury, as his five turnovers in 19 minutes suggest. He finished with just two points on 1-8 shooting, including 0-4 from beyond the arc. However, an example that his attitude was far different from Sunday, he managed to grab five rebounds. It wasn't entirely his fault, the performance just wasn't solid.

Melvin Scott – Scott's slump continued as he was 1-5 from the floor, including 0-2 from 3-point range. Scott is 5 for his last 33 overall and 2-20 from 3-point range in his last seven games. He appeared to play with a bit more confidence on Wednesday, but is still a mystery.

Byron Sanders – Credit Sanders for playing his heart out. He worked so hard and did his best, but proved he isn't yet ready for such a game. But because of May's absence Carolina has no alternative than to play him. Sanders has given the Heels some nice moments and has really improved. In fact, look for extensive improvement by next season as he will gain a lot from this experience. But he once again failed to grab a rebound (third game in last five) and had just two points. He was not comfortable with the ball in his hands and Duke smartly forced him to make mistakes.

Not the Big Three - Other than Williams, Felton and Noel, Carolina's other four players that saw action combined for 11 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, and 10 turnovers in 87 minutes. They were also a combined 5-19 from the floor and committed 11 of UNC's 20 fouls.

Youth - Duke's surge in the second half was led primarily by veteran players like Dahntay Jones (fifth-year senior) and Chris Duhon (junior). Carolina did not play a junior or senior for the second time this season.


The Tar Heels return home to begin their second trip through the ACC with a game against Florida State at 1 p.m. at the Smith Center. Both teams are tied at 2-6 in the league and if Carolina has any thoughts of reaching the NCAA tournament, it must handle the Seminoles.

Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He also covers the ACC for the Wilmington Star-News/Morning Star and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.

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