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Duke Knocks Off UNC, 89-78!

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After losing to Duke 89-78, Roy Williams does what coaches often do and assigned the blame to himself, but ask yourself this: think he'll open practice with an apology? No. It's back to wanting to make his guys throw up, something he probably considered himself at some points during the evening. Practice will not be fun on Thursday.

Although Tyler Hansbrough was magnificent in defeat, with 27 points and 18 boards, a monster night by any reckoning, his teammates weren't entirely there, as Williams noted. Obviously UNC played without their sparkplug, Ty Lawson, out with an injured ankle, but you have to go with what you have. The Heels had 20 turnovers, which fed into Duke's strengths nicely, and just as critically, on the offensive end, Hansbrough took about a third of the team's shots. His teammates were 16-48. With Duke's lack of size inside, it's no surprise that Deon Thompson was 5-6; toss him out and the rest of the Heels were only 11-42.

Marcus Ginyard? 3-10. Wayne Ellington? 3-14. Danny Green? 1-10. Quentin Thomas at least hit 50%, going 4-8.

Williams was also annoyed that the ball didn't go inside as much as he wanted, and he told his players at one point that he either wanted a dunk or a 35 second call, he didn't care which. He said they didn't take him seriously, but that he meant it.

Part of the problem, as Williams suggested, was that everyone seemed to be waiting for Hansbrough to do something, and most of the time, to be fair, he did do something. You can't really have one guy carry you, though. Just doesn't work. Didn't even work for Wilt Chamberlain, and anyway, he's not the only guy on the team who can dunk. Williams took the hit on one level, but the comment really laid the blame where he meant to lay it.

The damage goes deeper, though, because perceptions matter, and the perception after this game is that UNC is a long way from what it appeared to be earlier, when the Heels looked like a juggernaut.

The tendency now is going to be to view them as something a great deal less, which is not fair, either. But this is: if you can neutralize Lawson to some extent, the Heels are not an elite team. And if you can do that and match up with Hansbrough, the other players have to win the game. UNC's nightmare opponent in the NCAAs, therefore: UCLA. Darren Collison is an insane defender, and Kevin Love can give as good as he gets.

For Williams, things could be (and might be) worse: Clemson is coming to town this weekend, and while UNC fans have always been able to count on a home win against the Tigers, they won't know for sure how good Lawson will be, if he is actually ready, and even if he is, the Tigers match up very well. Unlike Duke, they have a lot of power down low and can give Hansbrough more trouble, like they did in Tigertown earlier.

Against UNC, Duke did what they've done all season: overcome a lack of size by spreading the court, by playing great defense, and by hitting threes.

Against UNC, Duke hit 13 of 29 threes to UNC's 3-17, outscoring UNC 39-9 from behind the line.

Another major factor for Duke was that they really started to pound the defensive glass, and cut off second chance baskets. UNC could have stayed closer that way, but was denied the chance.

For the Devils, the biggest relief was that Gerald Henderson didn't let the atmosphere get inside his head. UNC fans, of course, booed him heavily and held up "WANTED" posters, referring to last year's run-in with Tyler Hansbrough, but to no avail. The Junior G-Man (G-man is permanently retired) had a solid game, playing 29 minutes, shooting 5-10 for 12 points, grabbing seven boards, and defending Ellington very well. Unlike UNC, though, no one from Duke had to go it alone.

Kyle Singler, playing almost the entire game, hit for 14 points and 10 boards, and forced UNC's big men to follow him outside, thus opening the guts of UNC's defense to Duke. As his confidence grew, he began to move on them and to drive. It didn't always work, but he knows what he can do against them now. Just as importantly, they know they can't leave him alone, inside or out, because he'll make them pay.

Lance Thomas had one of his better games, going 5-7 for 10 points and grabbed five boards. He as surprisingly effective under the basket and if he can continue that, he'll be a major asset down the stretch.

DeMarcus Nelson got some foul trouble early, finished with four, and had 13 points and four boards. Greg Paulus had 18 on 6-9 shooting.

Jon Scheyer chipped in 17 with six boards, and he was particularly effective defensively and just played an overall smart game. He's almost the ideal sixth man for this team.

Nolan Smith added five points as well.

Duke did play well, and they deserved to win, but it wasn't a perfect effort. On one basket where Henderson goaltended a Hansbrough shot, Coach K was angered, according to Matthew Laurence, who reported that there was confusion on the defensive set.

And more unhappily, at the ends of both halves, Duke nearly lost control of the game: the Devils had a nine point lead at the 1:19 mark of the first half and went into halftime with a three point lead.

And at the end of the game, Duke was up 83-73, with 1:14 left (sound familiar?), before surrendering five fast points in 19 seconds with two turnovers in the mix.

Ugh. Duke righted the ship, though, and sailed on to victory, and with a nice cushion in the ACC race, and a #1 seed and all the perks, if they can keep it.

Both teams have challenges ahead. UNC, as we said, faces a suddenly very threatening game with Clemson. In the ACC, once weakness is sensed, everyone jumps all over you. It happened to Duke in 1995, and while that's not entirely analagous to UNC's situation, the are vulnerable. Unless the Heels can get Hansbrough some help, Clemson will come into the Dean dome ready to deliver some payback.

As for Duke, it's human nature to relax a bit, but that's a bad idea with B.C. coming up next. Yes, this isn't a vintage B.C. team, but they have a knack for gumming up the works, and you have to be vigilant about them. And the other teams now have a pretty good idea of what Duke has and doesn't have.

Was it a glorious win for Duke? Any win over UNC is. Was it a great effort? Absolutely. Was it a championship level performance? Uh, no. There were too many mistakes, whether it was playing the wrong defense, or dangerous late turnovers. Duke won, but change things just slightly, and UNC is crowing tonight instead, without Lawson, and with distinctly mediocre performances from just about everyone outside of Hansbrough.

What it is is a win to savor, and to build on. Duke survived the mistakes, and while UNC is a crippled team, they're still a good team and beating them means a lot on both the rivalry front and also on the growth chart.

Duke has come a long way since Pitt taught them a schoolyard lesson in toughness. Now what they need to do is to find a lesson in end-of-the-half and end-of-regulation situations, preferably without losing a game in the process.