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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Duke-North Carolina instant classic also saw both sides’ flaws get exposed

Ryan Greene
The Dagger

When North Carolina and Duke have their second regular-season meeting on March 3, the Tar Heels might still be trying to comprehend what happened in the final two minutes Wednesday night in a stunning 85-84 loss to the rival Blue Devils.

With 2:09 remaining on the Tar Heels' home floor, they led 82-72.

And 2:09 later, Duke's players were piled up on the floor celebrating in front of a sell-out crowd that was stunned silent.

In that stretch, UNC didn't record a field-goal attempt, turned the ball over twice and had Tyler Zeller go 2 of 4 from the free-throw line.

Meanwhile, Duke went 5 of 6 from the floor. Three of those makes were from 3-point range, and the lone miss turned into a baseline jumper by Ryan Kelly off of an offensive rebound.

And, of course, there was the dagger to end all daggers provided by Austin Rivers as time expired, giving Duke its first lead of the second half.

In the end, the game could be deemed a classic. It was up-and-down, intense and exciting the entire way. But it also exposed flaws on both sides that could limit both Duke and North Carolina down the road.

On the Carolina side, it yet again brought into question just what kind of killer instinct the Tar Heels have to go with all of that talent at their disposal. Frankly, there was no excuse for letting that lead disappear.

North Carolina simply let up in terms of defending the perimeter. Duke's best offense came in the form of hoisting 3-pointers by the barrel up until the final two minutes, yet the Tar Heels still allowed too many open looks. The most painful to watch came on the hit by Rivers to end the game. After switching on the perimeter with Reggie Bullock, Tyler Zeller ended up defending Rivers by himself. But instead of getting up in his face, he stayed back with his hands at his sides, anticipating a drive instead. And even though Rivers' shot was from roughly five feet beyond the arc, it was completely uncontested.

The more tangible concern for North Carolina is still depth, especially in the wake of the season-ending knee injury to backup point guard Dexter Strickland. Of UNC's 84 points, 78 came from the starters, who each played at least 33 minutes. The seven-man rotation Roy Williams is currently working with may be more talented than just about any top seven in the country, but talent will only get the Tar Heels so far.

On the other side, Duke avoided a second straight ACC loss, but can it keep winning the way it did against North Carolina?

For one, the Blue Devils again showed that they have incredible difficulty defending the ball on the perimeter. UNC's wings were able to penetrate far too easily. For the better part of the night, Kendall Marshall made it simply look far too easy, scoring 14 points, which ties a season high for a guy who is primarily a facilitator.

In short, Duke is not nearly the same team defensively that it has been in recent years under Mike Krzyzewski.

On the offensive end, the Blue Devils did hit 14 3-pointers. They used flurries of them to both build a lead early and come back late, but the fact remained that they took too many of them. Of Duke's 62 shot attempts, 36 came from long range. The reliance on the 3-pointer has been a theme for them this season, and it will be tough to string together wins in March without diversifying some.

The guy who can change that is Rivers, whose game-winning 3-pointer was his 10th attempt from deep on the night. The highly touted freshman is finally starting to play with some more discipline while displaying better decision-making on the offensive end. He's now emerging as the star that Duke needs him to be.

And even though both sides have some glaring flaws that could hinder them down the road, after Wednesday night's classic, March 3 can't get here soon enough.

Ryan Greene also covers UNLV and the Mountain West Conference for RunRebs.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanmgreene.

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