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UNC 74 Duke 66

Defense usually wins out in the end.

Feb 20, 2014; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Rodney Hood (5) drives on a basket that was disallowed in the first half at Dean E. Smith Center.
Feb 20, 2014; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Rodney Hood (5) drives on a basket that was disallowed in the first half at Dean E. Smith Center.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Duke lost to Carolina in Chapel Hill Thursday for a fairly simple reason and one you don't get to say too often: Roy's team just played better defense than Mike's.

In the second half, UNC just put a blanket over Duke defensively.

Carolina outscored the Blue Devils by 15 in the second half and Duke had a very long drought where just nothing worked at all.

Jabari Parker scored 15:14 into the second half and Duke didn't score another basket until Quinn Cook made a layup with 6:26 to go.

There were two free throws in there but that's nothing really.

Duke fans will complain about the officiating - UNC, despite terrible free throw shooting all season really won this game from the line where UNC was 20-31 to Duke's 7-12 - but Duke could still have prevailed. It was a two point game with just 1:56 left.

It's more rational to look at missed opportunities. From that point on, Duke had two turnovers and missed three shots for eight potential points.

UNC meanwhile hit three shots for six points and when Duke was forced to foul, the Heels, struggling all year long from the line, hit all six.

The unavoidable truth here is that one team stepped up and played harder and tougher than the other, and it wasn't Duke.

Carolina had been looking for a good game from Leslie McDonald and finally got one. The senior shot 9-12 from the floor and led UNC with 21 points.

For Duke, there was good news in the loss.

Since the Virginia game, when Coach K went to the deeper bench, Marshall Plumlee's minutes have gone up considerably. Against UNC, he had his longest stint yet and made a big difference.

Plumlee had six rebounds, a steal a block and three points. After dealing with foot injuries for his first two years, he's finally emerging as a force inside.

He's quite different from his brothers. Where Mason and Miles never saw themselves as post players and occasionally did things like lead fast breaks, Marshall has no such illusions.

He's a post player, pure and simple, and he was effective. As his legs come back, he's improving rapidly. He's got the potential to make a difference late in the year somewhat like Brian Zoubek did.

These are very different teams, but if Plumlee can step up, his role wouldn't need to be much different: rebound, play defense, pass.

That's a scenario sort of thing. Back in the land of reality, Duke was significantly exposed by UNC. This is a team, remember, that very serious offensive limitations. It's taken most of the year for Carolina to develop other scorers than McAdoo and Paige. Williams normally prefers a prettier team, one that scores a lot in transition.

He clearly doesn't have that right now, so he's taken a page out of Coach K's book and adapted to his talent. It's best suited to a slug-it-out style and it's working.

Things don't get any easier for Duke. Syracuse is in the house on Saturday, still smarting from the shocking loss to BC. Suddenly it's not just a glamour game, but one that both teams really need - Syracuse to keep on track for the ACC regular season title and to keep pace with Virginia, and Duke because an ACC Tournament bye is still not guaranteed.

This is the point in the season when, win or lose, the easy stuff is over for Syracuse. In the next few weeks, the Orange will understand that the competitive nature of the ACC is both relentless and ruthless (State made the point but BC really reinforced it).

We're not saying that Syracuse can't win the thing. But we are saying that Boeheim's bunch will understand there is a difference between what defines the ACC and what used to define the Big East.

If they win it, they're going to have to earn it, much as UNC earned what happened Thursday night.