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Scouting Report: Miami Coach Jim Larrañaga

WCHL’s Matt Oakes had the chance to chat with Miami men’s basketball coach Jim Larrañaga as his Hurricnaes get set to welcome the Tar Heels to the BankUnited Center Saturday afternoon.

The two discuss the do-or-die scenario facing  bubble teams like his own, the competitiveness of coaching in the ACC, the special challenges Carolina presents and the special atmosphere that will await UNC on Senior Day at Miami.

***Listen to the conversation***

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/scouting-report-miami-coach-jim-larranaga/

Slumping Tar Heels Head To Miami In Hopes Of Recovery Effort

The No. 15 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 19-9 overall and 9-6 in ACC action, hits the road to sunny south Florida to take on the 18-10 Miami Hurricanes Saturday afternoon. The Tar Heels will desperately be looking to get back on track after dropping five of their last seven games.

***Listen to the story***

If there’s such a thing as a must-win game, Saturday’s tilt at the BankUnited Center is one of those.

The Hurricanes, winners of three of their last four contests, are fighting to secure their place on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble while the Tar Heels need to build up their shaken confidence here on the doorstep of the postseason.

Can Marcus Paige regain his form? (Todd Melet)

Can Marcus Paige regain his form? (Todd Melet)

Likely most concerning for UNC head coach Roy Williams has been the late-game miscues that have repeatedly cost his squad vital victories.

The end-game woes all started with the collapse at Louisville, continued in the disappointment at Duke and stung most recently in the N.C. State loss.

“Silly poise. No poise. I’ve never had a play where our big guy shoots a three-point shot, unless he could really shoot threes. Kennedy [Meeks] just didn’t know what to do so he shot it. We had a set play called twice in a row and didn’t execute that so that’s the Coach’s fault,” Coach Williams says.

Junior forward Brice Johnson, who struggled mightily Tuesday night against the Wolfpack with a 1-6 shooting mark, says the Tar Heels need to leave their struggles behind them and focus on the here and now.

“That was awful. We got to do better. We got to be ready to play from the tip. We didn’t. They came here and beat us. We can’t let that happen, but it did. We got to bounce back from it. We’ve been in this predicament before,” Johnson says.

Coach Williams says his team needs to get tougher and take it to opponents at the rim for a full forty minutes going forward.

“Pump fake and go at him strong. Don’t pump fake 17 times and then try to make the softest shot in the history of basketball. You got to be tough. It’s a physical game. You’ve got to be strong,” Coach Williams says.

UNC’s toughness will likely be put to the test Saturday against Miami head coach Jim Larranaga’s bunch. Junior guards Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez are capable of taking over a game.

Miami's Angel Rodriguez is a handful (Todd Melet)

Miami’s Angel Rodriguez is a handful (Todd Melet)

Last time out, Rodriguez did just that, running over the rival  FSU Seminoles with ruthless authority to the tune of 25 points.

UNC would do well to get its scoring leader, junior guard Marcus Paige, back into the flow. Coach Williams says the rest of the team, though, needs to do a better job of helping him out.

“He’s an emphasis for the other team. We’ve got to do a better job of getting him open. He’s got to do a better job moving, but other guys got to be able to step up and make a shot every now and then too,” Coach Williams says.

Paige says it’s not the defense that’s got him concerned. But with nights like Tuesday, where the Tar Heels shot a mere 35 percent from the floor and totaled a Smith Center low in points, the offense is another issue altogether.

“We need to play better. We were getting decent shots, but we weren’t giving them a chance to get us layups. In the second half we got a bunch of layups, got back in the game and made it interesting, and then we kind of deviated from that again. We need to play better offensively. Offensively, we just kind of stunk it up,” Paige says.

Despite the discouraging slide of late, UNC remains in the hunt for that coveted No. 4 seed in the ACC Tournament. But it can ill-afford a slip-up in the Sunshine State.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/slumping-tar-heels-head-to-miami-in-hopes-of-recovery-effort/

Tar Heels Fall To Wolfpack With Historically Poor Offense

The No. 15 North Carolina men’s basketball team couldn’t overcome a miserable first half Tuesday night, ultimately falling to rival N.C. State 58-46. The 46 points was the lowest point total for the Tar Heels in Smith Center history.

***Listen to the story***

With the loss, Carolina dropped to a 19-9 mark on the season and 9-6 in ACC play while the Wolfpack improved to 17-11 overall and 8-7 in the league. What’s more, the road win likely cemented N.C. State’s place in the NCAA Tournament.

UNC freshman forward Justin Jackson tallied 16 points to lead all scorers, but he was one of the few bright spots for the home team on this night.

The crowd was loud Tuesday night, but the UNC players fell short (Todd Melet)

The crowd was loud Tuesday night, but the UNC players fell short (Todd Melet)

The Wolfpack trio of Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber, Ralston Turner and Trevor Lacey formed a potent triumvirate, amassing 43 of their team’s 58 points.

UNC head coach Roy Williams was at a loss for words after the game, disappointed that after motivating the crowd “to show up and invest” after Saturday’s win over Georgia Tech, his team let its fans down in the rivalry defeat.

“They were dominating from the first get-go. Before I even get to that, I want to say something and make something really clear. Our crowd was great tonight, and we let them down. They were sensational. They were off the charts. The coach let them down and the players…early in the game they dominated everything. They intimidated us inside,” Coach Williams says.

***Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame remarks***

N.C. State outrebounded Carolina 41-38 and seemingly came up with every loose ball and jump ball rebound. Not surprisingly, Wolfpack head coach Mark Gottfried was delighted with his team’s effort.

“We answered their run, which I thought was really important and was really something I was very proud of for our team, so it’s a great win for us.  Obviously, North Carolina is a terrific team.  We’re very fortunate, so I’m very proud of our guys,” Coach Gottfried says.

N.C. State grabbed a milestone victory (Todd Melet)

N.C. State grabbed a milestone victory (Todd Melet)

The first half couldn’t have gone more poorly for the Tar Heels. UNC shot a mere 28 percent from the floor, but NC State was able to effectively limit the second-chance opportunities for Carolina. The Wolfpack gobbled up defensive rebounds with ruthless authority.

Roy Williams was fired up as usual (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams was fired up as usual (Todd Melet)

The final score of the first half for the Tar Heels came on Meeks’ tip-in with still 5:46 to go.

At intermission, NC State held a 29-18 advantage in large part to dominance on the boards. The visiting team held a 25-17 lead in the rebounding department. The 18 points put up by UNC was the lowest production in any half in the Smith Center in the Roy Williams era.

“We were getting the ball five, six feet away from the basket, so I don’t know. We just couldn’t convert a lot of those, I don’t know why. Usually our bigs do a great job of scoring inside. We just couldn’t get the ball to go in. Justin had a couple of easy throws around the basket, but you know they are physical and obviously very good shot blockers. That might have had something to do with it,” UNC junior guard Marcus Paige says.

In the second half, after falling behind 34-18 with 18:12 to play, the Tar Heels mounted a strong rally by getting out in transition and pushing the tempo. The Smith Center crowd erupted when UNC closed to within four at 36-32 with 12:10 remaining in the contest.

But from there, the Tar Heels again lost their way and to the Wolfpack’s credit, they maintained their pose down the stretch. Senior guard Ralston Turner’s three-pointer with 4:58 to play might have been the turning point, extending N.C. State’s lead back out to seven points.

Late turnovers and careless passes further doomed the Tar Heels in the waning minutes and led to the men in red celebrating a rare win in Chapel Hill. The last win for the Wolfpack in the Smith Center came in 2003.

The Tar Heels return to action 2 p.m. Saturday at Miami.

FINAL BOX SCORE

GAME PHOTO GALLERY

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tar-heels-fall-to-wolfpack-after-sluggish-start/

Roy Williams Wants More Help From Fans In N.C. State Rivalry Rematch

Tuesday night at 8 p.m., the No. 15 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 19-8 overall with a 9-5 mark in the ACC, will square off with its rival from Raleigh, the N.C. State Wolfpack, who come into the contest with a 16-11 record and 7-7 mark in the league.

***Listen to the story***

UNC head coach Roy Williams will be hoping for more ‘investment’ from the Carolina fans.

“I felt like they were asleep most of the day any way. That’s not intended to be criticism, but it’s criticism. We need some dadgum help. We go on the road and people are screaming like banshees or something. Today, every time I yelled at a player, they turned around and looked at me. I yelled at a player Wednesday night, they never knew I was over there yelling. They thought I was doing exercises,” Coach Williams says.

Roy Williams animated on the sidelines (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams animated on the sidelines (Todd Melet)

Needless to say, Coach Williams was none too pleased with the atmosphere in the Smith Center Saturday afternoon for UNC’s commanding 89-60 victory over Georgia Tech.

Is it a coincidence Coach Williams’ plea for more crowd support comes just before the rematch with the Wolfpack?

Coach Williams’ 28-2 career record against N.C. State says it all. In short, the Carolina Hall of Famer has a personal disdain for the men in red.

And luckily for Coach Williams, junior guard Marcus Paige doesn’t seem to care for the Wolfpack much either. He’s produced some of his best games in this in-state rivalry matchup, including last season’s unforgettable duel with T.J. Warren and his impressive 23-point outing earlier this year.

Paige says with all the disappointment in recent weeks, coming out on the right end of scoreboard against the Yellow Jackets over the weekend was critical for Carolina’ confidence going forward.

Cat Barber dribbles around Marcus Paige (Wolfpack Athletics)

Cat Barber dribbles around Marcus Paige (Wolfpack Athletics)

“It’s been tough with the loss of Coach Smith and also us losing a couple tough games – going up to Pitt and not performing the way we wanted to and losing a heartbreaker at Duke. That was tough. This was a great way to bounce back. We really needed this one for our confidence and kind of get a positive thing going here,” Paige says.

After a questionable performance at Duke, freshman forward Justin Jackson got back on track against Georgia Tech, finishing with 11 points and six rebounds.

Jackson says he was happy to see his teammate, Paige, regain his shooting touch as well.

“To see him come out here and knock down a few shots, it’s definitely good for his confidence and for us. It lifts us up. Whenever he says stuff like that, that’s the pressure he puts on himself to be great. We got to take some of that as well. It was great to see him produce like he did,” Jackson says.

As for the Wolfpack, they’re loaded with scoring options. Junior guard Trevor Lacey is a handful and when you add in senior veteran Ralston Turner’s ability to knock down outside shots, N.C. State becomes a formidable force on the hardwood.

With things seemingly falling into place, head coach Mark Gottfried will be confident in his team’s chances at springing the upset in the Smith Center.

UNC sophomore Kennedy Meeks, though, believes in the Carolina Way and says there’s no cap on his squad’s potential coming down the stretch.

Meeks battles inside (Todd Melet)

Meeks battles inside (Todd Melet)

“Coach always says we got to keep fighting and play the Carolina Way. Last couple games, we’ve played tough, but teams hit some big-time shots with some big-time execution. I think if we play our heart out, the sky’s the limit for us. As a team, we just got to get better,” Meeks says.

Coach Williams, meanwhile, has a message for the fans who are heading to the Smith Center Tuesday night.

“If you want to act like I’m chastising the fans, just tell them to come in and invest. We need some help. Show up with your lungs rested…when do we play again? Tuesday night. We need some more support, my gosh,” Coach Williams says.

It remains to be seen what kind of atmosphere will be awaiting the Tar Heels, but Coach Williams no doubt knew exactly what he was doing in the build-up to a game that means a whole lot to a lot of people.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/roy-williams-wants-more-help-from-fans-in-n-c-state-rivalry-rematch/

Final Farewell: Coach Smith Cherished, Celebrated By Those He Loved

The life and legacy of Dean Smith was publicly celebrated Sunday afternoon in the Carolina basketball showpiece that bears his name, the Dean E. Smith Center. There were few dry eyes in the house as former players, coaches and friends paid tribute to UNC’s priceless gem.

***Listen to the story***

‘Amazing Grace’, sung to perfection by the UNC Clef Hangers, certainly didn’t help those watery eyes any either.

The song, one of Coach Smith’s favorites, was also accompanied by ‘There Will Never Be Another You’ performed by the UNC Department of Music Jazz Sextet. Coach Smith was always fond of jazz music.

The beautiful musical acts accented the poignant words of some of the people closest to the legendary UNC basketball coach.

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics

A full crowd Sunday in the Smith Center (UNC Athletics)

None may have been closer, though, than Coach Smith’s pastor and friend for over fifty years, the Reverend Dr. Robert Seymour.

“We knew the end of his life was approaching. It has been a long, long goodbye. I’m sure you will join with me in thanking the members of his family and all of those who gave him good loving care for such a long, long time,” Seymour said

Seymour was quick to remind the thousands in attendance that this coming Saturday, Feb. 28, is his friend’s birthday. Seymour shared the card he was planning to send to Coach Smith.

“Were he still in our midst, I have a birthday card I would have sent him. The message is this: Treasured and trusted with a heart that’s true, no wonder we celebrate that God gave us you,” Seymour said.

Coach Smith’s son, Scott Smith, took the time to thank everybody involved in making the memorial event for his father a success.

“We personally witnessed so much of the hard work that went on behind the scenes to make this such a wonderful event honoring a husband, our father and your Coach and friend,” Smith said.

Smith also expressed his father’s love for current UNC coach Roy Williams.

“Coach Williams, dad loved you. He believed in you. He often told us how proud he was of you and how happy he was that you were here at UNC. He knew the basketball program that he loved and developed would be in your great hands going forward, even after he was no longer here,” Smith said.

Roy Williams holding up four fingers for Coach Smith (UNC Athletics)

Roy Williams holding up four fingers for Coach Smith (UNC Athletics)

The Voice of the Tar Heels for over 30 years, Woody Durham, emceed the event and painted a beautiful portrait of Coach Smith’s relationship with Coach Williams that came full circle when he brought him back home to Chapel Hill.

“He was brought to his University by the man he wanted to be around to learn how to be a basketball coach. And then when the time came and the Coach thought it was right, he sent him to his alma mater, as the head coach of the University of Kansas. And then when it was the right time to bring him home, he did that too,” Durham said.

Coach Williams recalled a time he got a pretty significant phone call but wouldn’t let it interrupt a meeting with one of his players.

“I’ve got a player in the office, and she [secretary] opened the door and stuck her head in. I looked and said, ‘What?’ You just don’t do that. She said, ‘Former President Bush is on the phone.’ I said, ‘Would you please tell him we’ll call him back,'” Coach Williams said.

As it turned out, President Bush just wanted a couple tickets to the upcoming game. But the funny anecdote illustrates Coach Williams carrying on Coach Smith’s tradition of the Carolina family – an unwavering loyalty to his players and staff.

But that kindness and compassion stretched out further, as Coach Williams pointed out.

“Every day our lives will show something that Coach Smith gave us – the way we treat people, the way we treat people with respect and dignity, and the way we care. That’s what Coach Smith did,” Coach Williams said.

Thousands gathered to say goodbye to Coach Smith Sunday (UNC Athletics)

Thousands gathered to say goodbye to Coach Smith Sunday (UNC Athletics)

Coach Smith revolutionized the game of basketball in many ways – the Four Corners offense and pointing to the passer are just two of them.

In UNC’s win over Georgia Tech Saturday, Coach Williams paid tribute by running the iconic Four Corners offense that comforted Tar Heel fans and enraged opponents for years.

Fittingly, Coach Williams took another page out of his mentor’s playbook Sunday and called for the crowd in attendance to point skyward up at Coach Smith.

“I’m trying to speak on behalf of every one of us. Everybody has negatives. Everybody has plusses. Coach Smith had more plusses than anybody I’ve ever known. Let’s raise our hand, point and thank him for the assist. Thank you,” Coach Williams said.

WCHL’s own Freddie Kiger put together a touching video tribute to Coach Smith. It closed out the proceedings on an emotional day inside the Smith Center.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/final-farewell-coach-smith-cherished-celebrated-loved/

Carolina Honors Coach Smith With Emphatic Victory

A moment of silence. 1980’s throwback jerseys. The Four-Corners offense run to perfection. Soaring slams. Pulsating roars.

No, this wasn’t 1982, but if you closed your eyes, it could have been. Needless to say, it was Carolina’s day inside the Dean E. Smith Center.

***Listen to the story***

The No. 15 North Carolina men’s basketball team sped away from Georgia Tech Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill, securing a comfortable 89 -60 win to improve to 19-8 overall and 9-5 in ACC action.

It was a celebratory mood inside the Smith Center Saturday (Todd Melet)

It was a celebratory mood inside the Smith Center Saturday (Todd Melet)

With the loss, the Yellow Jackets dropped to 12-15 on the season with a 3-12 mark in league play.

The Chapel Hill community will officially memorialize the late Dean Smith Sunday inside the showpiece that dons his name, but it’s Saturday’s dominant performance from his beloved Tar Heels that will probably make Coach Smith happiest.

Six UNC players finished in double figures in scoring with sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks leading the charge with 18 points to go along with six rebounds. The unselfish effort and tight teamwork would no doubt make Coach Smith smile.

Many observers were wondering how Carolina would respond from the disappointment at Duke Wednesday. Those folks received an emphatic answer.

Four corners! (UNC Athletics)

Four corners! (UNC Athletics)

“Okay, needless to say it was a great day for us.  Shoot 63 percent for the game and only have eight turnovers, it was a good bounce back from a very disappointing game Wednesday night.  We felt, like I said at the press conference Wednesday night, I thought we did some good things over there, but Duke made better plays down the stretch.  People were worried about the carry-over.  I wasn’t worried about that,” UNC head coach Roy Williams says.

***Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame remarks***

Georgia Tech junior forward Marcus Georges-Hunt tallied a team-leading 15 points, but the Jackets only managed to shoot 38 percent from the floor as a team, struggling to deal with UNC’s defensive aggression, especially early in the second half.

A potential Four Corners tribute to Coach Smith was something Coach Williams says he’s been pondering for weeks now, due to UNC’s extended road trip.

Paige battles for the ball with Yellow Jackets flanking him (Todd Melet)

Paige battles for the ball with Yellow Jackets flanking him (Todd Melet)

“It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time, for two weeks anyway.  Some way to do something that would mean a great deal to him and would mean a great deal to me.  I thought that worked out great,” Coach Williams says.

Roy Williams was emotional for Coach Smith and his Tar Heels (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams was emotional for Coach Smith and his Tar Heels (Todd Melet)

Fittingly, the four corners play proved successful. Before the score, Coach Williams held up four fingers that served as a lasting memory for those in attendance.

In total, the first half shooting percentage of 61.3 percent was UNC’s second best field goal percentage of the season – a half against William & Mary the only 20 minutes better.

Out of the halftime locker room, the Tar Heels took over. An electrifying J.P. Tokoto aerial assault followed by a pretty Marcus Paige three-pointer gave UNC a 60-32 advantage with 15:15 to play in the contest. The game was essentially over.

Tokoto, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds, says Saturday’s win was absolutely necessary.

“You don’t want to lose a fifth, especially at home to anybody, not just Georgia Tech even if it was Duke, we would have came out with the same energy. We have to take this and keep moving forward. We are out of a drought now, but we could drop the next game very easily if we don’t come out to play,” Tokoto says.

Next up for Carolina comes round two of its rivalry matchup with N.C. State. The Tar Heels and Wolfpack will square off Tuesday night at 8 p.m. back in the Smith Center.

***Click here for full game photo gallery***

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/carolina-honors-coach-smith-emphatic-victory/

Life of Dean Smith to be Honored With Public Celebration

The life of legendary coach Dean Smith will be celebrated with a public memorial at 2 PM on Sunday. The service will be held in the appropriately named, Dean E. Smith Center.

Those who wish to attend will be admitted on a first-come, first- served basis.

Welcome remarks will be delivered by University Chancellor Carol Folt, followed by words from a plethora of Coach Smith’s former players and colleagues, including current head basketball coach, Roy Williams.

Video tributes and special performances by Carolina musical groups and the UNC-Chapel Hill band will also be included in the procession, which should last approximately two hours.

The event will be broadcast live, and commercial-free, on WCHL beginning at 2:00. Jones Angell will host.

Doors to the arena will open at 1 PM, and those who drive to campus should expect a traffic pattern similar to that used for men’s home basketball games.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/life-dean-smith-honored-public-celebration/

Scouting Report: Georgia Tech Coach Brian Gregory

WCHL’s Matt Oakes had the chance to chat with Georgia Tech men’s basketball coach Brian Gregory ahead of his team’s matchup with the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.

The pair discussed Coach Gregory’s time spent coaching with Tom Izzo at Michigan State, the competitiveness of the ACC and his Yellow Jackets’ chances at pulling off an upset in the Smith Center Saturday.

***Listen to the interview***

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/scouting-report-georgia-tech-coach-brian-gregory/

In Wake of Duke Defeat, Carolina Hosts Georgia Tech

The No. 15 Tar Heels haven’t played all that poorly the past two contests at Pittsburgh and at Duke, but they lost both contests. A return home to the comfy confines of the Smith Center to take on struggling Georgia Tech could provide the perfect remedy for a UNC squad in desperate need of victory.

***Listen to the story***

“Guys, I know the outcome. You can’t just say besides the outcome because you know the outcome. They played better than we did today. We’ll get another chance, and maybe we’ll play better that day. It’s a long, long marathon. It’s a marathon in this league, and you’re running up hill all the time,” UNC head coach Roy Williams says.

Brice Johnson stepped up before fouling out against Duke (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson stepped up before fouling out against Duke (Todd Melet)

Carolina’s ACC ‘marathon’ will continue this weekend.

Sitting at 18-8 on the season with an 8-5 mark in ACC play, the Tar Heels still remain in the hunt for a No. 4 seed in the ACC Tournament.

But losing four of the last five contests makes it harder to feel too optimistic. The true mettle of this Carolina club will no doubt be tested coming down the home stretch.

Lost in the shuffle of another classic Carolina-Duke matchup at Cameron was junior forward Brice Johnson fouling out of the contest late in the second half.

Johnson was playing well, especially on the boards. Without Johnson on the floor, the Tar Heels struggled to come up with the critical rebounds needed to put away their rivals.

Coach Williams says UNC needs to cut out the careless fouls.

“It hurt us, but it wasn’t a major part of the game. I don’t want anybody fouling out. We got to stop making the silly fouls. If he [Johnson] had stopped making the silly fouls, perhaps we’d be in the game,” Coach Williams says.

Despite the bitter end to the night at Cameron, there were flashes of brilliance from a lock-down UNC defense and thunderous finishes by the mercurial J.P. Tokoto.

Coach Williams will hope the individual performances Wednesday evening translate into a more collective, consistent Carolina going forward.

J.P. Tokoto's play has electrified crowds...at times. (Photo by Todd Melet.)

J.P. Tokoto’s play has electrified crowds…at times. (Photo by Todd Melet.)

“J.P. [Tokoto] has been struggling recently, but he had 15 points, seven assists, zero turnovers and eight rebounds [in the game]. I think several guys did some good things,” Coach Williams says.

UNC’s opponent Saturday, Georgia Tech, won’t be feeling sorry for the reeling the Tar Heels. The Yellow Jackets are a capable squad, coming off a 63-52 win against the Clemson Tigers.

The high noon tipoff in Chapel Hill will be the first home action on the hardwood since the passing of legendary UNC coach Dean Smith earlier this month. Emotions are sure to be riding high.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/wake-duke-defeat-carolina-hosts-georgia-tech/

Cameron Classic: Duke Slips By UNC In Overtime Thriller

In another memorable chapter in the Tobacco Road rivalry, the No. 15 North Carolina men’s basketball team fell in overtime, 92-90, to No. 4 Duke Wednesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

***Listen to the story***

Carolina built a ten-point second half lead with 3:51 to play to stun the Cameron Crazies, but the Tar Heels were unable to seal the deal in the closing minutes. The Blue Devils took full advantage of UNC miscues to force overtime at 81-all and ultimately complete the comeback victory.

With the loss, the Tar Heels dropped to 18-8 overall and an 8-5 mark in ACC play while the Blue Devils improved to 23-3 on the season with a 10-3 record in the league.

“It’s tough for this game to always live up to the hype,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski says. “But I think tonight’s game exceeded it.”

This topsy-turvy edition of the Battle of the Blues was played at a feverish, hectic pace and saw a number of players on both sides rise to the occasion, but it was Duke guard Tyus Jones who shone the brightest on this night, delivering the goods in the clutch and finishing with 22 points and seven rebounds.

Tyus Jones talks with Coach Mike Krzyzewski, a former point guard himself. (The Herald-Sun)

Tyus Jones talks with Coach Mike Krzyzewski, a former point guard himself. (The Herald-Sun)

Duke’s Quinn Cook also had an outstanding game, contributing 22 points of his own while playing a whopping 45 minutes of the grueling contest that forced millions of viewers to stay up well past their bedtimes.

Notably, one UNC player was surprisingly quiet. Marcus Paige, normally an offensive catalyst for the Tar Heels, struggled to get open against the disciplined defense of Jones and when he did get shots off, he missed the mark completely, only managing to tally five points on 2-11 shooting.

“My teammates came to battle. They played fantastic the whole game. And I didn’t really give them anything,” Paige says.

In Paige’s place, a supporting cast of Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto was forced to take a starring role. The trio handled the promotion well, playing with an intensity and focus rarely seen so far in their careers.

Meeks and Johnson finished with 18 points apiece while Tokoto supplied 15 points that included a couple electrifying dunks that silenced the hostile crowd briefly each time.

But ironically, it was normally exquisite passer Meeks, whose carelessly tossed pass actually turned the tables late in the game and paved the path for a Duke rally.

“If you just care about college basketball then you had to enjoy that part of it. But I happen to love North Carolina, so it’s not as agreeable with me,” UNC head coach Roy Williams says.

***Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame remarks***

Duke sped out of the gates with a fury, staking a 13-4 lead with 16:41 on the first half clock. UNC appeared nervous in the opening minutes but settled down quickly to survive the Blue Devil storm.

Paige couldn't get much going Wed. night (Photo Courtesy ESPN)

Paige couldn’t get much going Wed. night (Photo Courtesy ESPN)

The Tar Heels battled hard and received contributions from a variety of players to cut the devfcit down to 40-36 after a Joel James layup with 4:12 to play before intermission.

At the halftime buzzer, Duke held a 49-42 advantage thanks to early hot shooting.

The start of the second half was dominated by the guys in Carolina blue. The Tar Heels got their offense flowing with crisp passing and unselfish ball movement. What’s more, their defense was suffocating. In full flight, UNC was something to see. The scoreboard reflected the spike in play too with Carolina sporting a 77-67 advantage with 3:51 to go.

But down the stretch, careless mistakes started to creep in. Missed foul shots didn’t help matters any either. Duke, meanwhile, turned up the defensive intensity and suprised Carolina by not settling for three-pointes when falling behind by double-digits.

Instead, the Blue Devils raised their toughness level and began driving straight to the basket, finishing the shots around the rim and often, drawing a foul.

The overtime period was tight throughout, but it was clear who had all the momentum. With the Cameron crowd in a frenzy, it was hard to imagine a scenario where UNC emerged victorious. But still, the Tar Heels had plenty of chances. But in the end, Duke snagged the all-important rebound to seal the deal off an intentional Carolina free throw miss.

In a lighter moment, before the game, Coach Krzyzewski and Coach Williams embraced while teammates from both squads put their arms around each other at midcourt for a poignant moment of silence to honor the late Dean Smith. The silence in Cameron Indoor was breathtaking – almost like a cathedral. Some fans even wore T-shirts in Duke’s color scheme and lettering that read DEAN in place of the usual DUKE.

Outside of the final outcome, an emotional Coach Williams says he was pleased with his team’s fight.

“For the most part, I really enjoyed the toughness and the poise of my team. Yes, we missed some free throws and wide open shots, but that’s college basketball. It’s 18, 19, 20, 21-year-old kids. We’ve been through a tough stretch. I am really proud of my team,” Coach Williams says.

Will UNC’s spirited effort against its rival serve as fuel to the fire going forward or will it represent a last gasp, of sorts, to a season that hasn’t been going in the right direction lately?

The answer will begin to reveal itself this weekend. The Tar Heels will return to action Saturday for a high noon meeting in the Smith Center with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

FINAL BOX SCORE

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