Carolina Blues: Duke's Win Proves the Tar Heels Are Not Ready for Primetime

Steven PriceContributor IFebruary 10, 2011

North Carolina's John Henson takes it to the basket against Duke's Kyle Singler. Though Singler's night was underwhelming shooting-wise, the Blue Devils would prevail 79-73 in Durham Wednesday night.
North Carolina's John Henson takes it to the basket against Duke's Kyle Singler. Though Singler's night was underwhelming shooting-wise, the Blue Devils would prevail 79-73 in Durham Wednesday night.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Sixteen points

That was the lead North Carolina possessed with 0:09 remaining in the half.

One second later, Seth Curry drained a jumper from fifteen feet out, giving Duke a final bucket before the break to try and drum up momentum.

From Curry's jumper on, North Carolina wasn't the same.

Wednesday night's frustrating loss for the North Carolina Tar Heels was merely another chapter in the storied rivalry, albeit a crushing one for Roy Williams and his squad.

After leading by as many as sixteen points in the first half, Duke came roaring back in the second half, scoring eight unanswered to chop the lead down to six.

North Carolina managed to hold on to their lead, albeit feebly early in the second half.

Eventually, Duke's relentless pressure in the half court game stymied Carolina's rhythm, and the Blue Devils began to control the boards on both ends of the floor.

Seth Curry's jumper with 9:48 left on the clock finally tied the game at 54-54, and Ryan Kelly's three put Duke ahead for good, en route to 79-73 victory.

It was a tale of two halves in the eternal rivalry—a "tale of two cities", if you will, separated only by twelve miles.

In those twelve miles, though, there exists a hatred unlike any other between the two stalwarts of ACC Basketball. Those twelve miles, however short in reality, contain a lifetime of bitter pain and seething frustration amongst the supporters of the Blue Devils and Tar Heels.

But with bragging rights on the line, more than just pride that was at stake for the two teams.

Despite leading the Conference heading into Wednesday night's game, Duke was seen as a staggered juggernaut, going ice cold in their loss to St. John's on January 30th. Despite having throttled Maryland and North Carolina State leading into the showdown, many questioned whether Duke had the edge, even at Cameron.

For the Tar Heels, a sluggish start had given way to a stellar 5-0 turnaround in conference play, led by the interior presence of Tyler Zeller and the other-worldly play of Kendall Marshall, whose UNC-record 16 assists in a win over Florida State had many pundits wondering how great the Freshman point guard actually was.

Unfortunately for Carolina, even the brilliant play of Marshall couldn't disguise the painful truth after Wednesday night's game.

After giving up the Curry jumper to end the half, North Carolina looked extremely flat. Foul trouble kept pivotal swing man John Henson off the court for large stretches, reducing his effectiveness.

North Carolina also suffered from shoddy play from guard Reggie Bullock, whose quick succession of fouls early in the second half helped Duke mount its resurgent run.

Even more depressing was the collapse of North Carolina's offensive momentum heading out of the the first half.

With a fourteen point lead going into the break (at Cameron Indoor Stadium, no less), North Carolina was poised to really ice the game with a strong performance out of the gate. But Duke's flurry to start the second seemed to rattle the young team, who had remained so calm up until then. It was off to the races from there.

The loss Wednesday highlights the enduring legacy of the 2010-2011 North Carolina Tar Heels Basketball Team. Despite possessing a solid starting rotation, the lack of experience and depth on Roy Williams' club only accentuates the stigma surrounding this team.

Not there yet.

With a chance to knock off No.5 Duke and make a huge statement tonight, North Carolina choked away a sizable lead, and with it the chance to prove it could make a legitimate run come tournament time in March.

Without a doubt, Carolina is still one of the top two teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference this year, owing to the weakness of the league.

Yet Carolina's failure to put a superior team away when it had a chance, demonstrates a lack of leadership on the floor, and highlights the effects of the recent trend of recruits (and players) walking away from the team.

Coach Williams will be getting plenty of angry phone calls during his next radio show, and deservedly so. The constant departures from the team have hurt the program this year, potentially robbing them of crucial wins down the stretch.

None of that matters in the Old North State tonight. Round one of the annual battle between Duke and North Carolina went the way of the Blue Devils. In Durham, all is right with the basketball world.

In Chapel Hill, though, a fan base is left reeling after the "lost victory". And a program must do some serious soul searching before Tobacco Road's most storied rivalry comes calling once more.