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Heels Win, 79-71

Duke lost to UNC, 79-71, in a game that was nip and tuck until the final minutes. In the end, UNC just had a little more than Duke, but Duke has improved a lot since the game in Durham.

Duke was with UNC in every respect for the first half and even though their shooting fell off in the second, they were still within two at the 3:27 mark.

In crunch time, though, UNC came up with the plays and Duke didn't.  Danny Green hit a three to push the lead to five.  After a Singler free throw, Ty Lawson pushed it back to six.  Five more free throws wrapped up UNC's scoring.

Duke's performance in the last 3:27 wasn't as encouraging:  Singler missed one of two free throws and followed that with a turnover.  Henderson had a turnover. Singler missed a three.  Henderson missed three free throws and Elliot Williams followed those with a missed three. Singler did hit two free throws to cut the final margin to eight which was the margin Julio predicted on DBR Radio, incidentally.

That was 16 potential points that didn't go down, eighteen if you assume the turnovers could have ended with three point shots instead.

If you just count the free throws, it would have been a four point game and then it's one three pointer away from a dramatic finish.  But as Fred Goldsmith used to say, if ifs and but were wishes and nuts oh what a Christmas we'd see.

Or something like that, anyway.

With Duke's health, it was going to be tough to win this game, and they were right there at the end.  And the first half would have kept them in the game against anyone in the country.

As we pretty much assumed, the ancient UNC stunt of saying that a player is highly questionable after a practice injury, only to turn around and have a starring role was whipped out again: Ty Lawson, who was said to not be able to walk after practice on Friday and who sat out Saturday, predictably had a big game, finishing with almost a triple double (13 points, nine from the line, eight boards and nine assists).  If it hadn't happened so many times over the years, it would be more believable.  You can assume that a Michael Jordan or Christian Laettner or a guy who's just exceptionally tough-minded can ovecome an injury like that, but it just happens so often that it has to be a strategy, and a rather old one now at that.  He showed absolutely no effects of an injury.

Seniors Tyler Hansbrough had a solid game, with 17 points and eight boards and even hit a pair of threes.  Hansbrough was 5-11; Danny Green was 5-10, Deon Thompson was 6-10, and Wayne Ellington was 7-10.

For Duke, Kyle Singler had an incredible first half, and Jon Scheyer may have had his best game at Duke - not that it's easy to measure that in his case.

Scheyer was 7-7 and 3-3 from behind the line.  He was 7-8 from the line and also had three boards, five assists and four steals, and he was superb.

What we meant when we say it's hard to measure his game is this:  like Shane Battier, Scheyer can influence the game in very subtle ways.  He can change the flow of a game simply by taking a few steps on a defensive inbounds.  He's that smart and the fact that he had spectacular stats in this game can't reflect that kind of knack.  We've seen stretches where Scheyer completely controlled the game even when his shot was on vacation.  But there's no question he was absolutely superb in this game.

Despite the loss, there's a lot to like about this game.  For one, Scheyer's performance.  For another, the fact that Duke was in the game in the closing minutes despite UNC defending Gerald Henderson very well. He was held to 4-11 from the floor and also missed five free throws.

A few weeks ago, you couldn't' imagine Duke in a game like this without a huge performance from Henderson.  And while Elliot Williams had some growing pains, tossing up some shots he shouldn't have and trying some drives that were unlikely to succeed, Duke is still better with him in the lineup. And it was good to see Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek playing with heart despite their injuries.

So Duke finished tied for second and moves to the ACC Tournament as the #3 seed, since Wake gets the tiebreaker with their win over UNC. They'll face the winner of the B.C.-Virginia game and will play on Friday night at 9:00.   It's a week of tweaking and therapy.  We'll see what happens next weekend.