It was an exceptionally tough day for us to say the least. I was really proud of our students and fans that stayed around ‘til the end. I’m a little disappointed in those that left. I thought that we would have stayed around and listened to the seniors. You can’t complain about those people, but I’m really pleased with those students that did stay and listen to the video, but it was tough. It’s not easy to sit there after somebody kicks your rear end like that.
They played well, they got off to a great start. It reminded me of us playing over at their place last year because we got off to such a great start and never let them get back in the game, basically, and that’s what happened today. They made all their shots early; we didn’t make very many shots and one of the characteristics of this team the last three weeks is we’ve made shots and Duke’s defense was stronger than our offense—and Duke’s offense was stronger than our defense was. You just have to congratulate them. They played a heck of a lot better, and they were, by far, the better team today. We didn’t play nearly as well as we wanted to play, to say the least. You shoot 27 percent and the other teams shoots right at 70 percent in the first half, it’s hard.
Every streak has to end—10 years as Coach Smith’s assistant, 25 years as a head coach, this is the first time we’ve ever lost the game on Senior Day. I keep telling myself that we don’t talk about it. I kept saying, ‘It’s going to end, let’s put it off one more year.’ But Dexter and Frank (Tanner), particularly Dexter—and it’s not anything negative about Frank, Frank’s just been here one year. I would have really liked for Dexter to have had that feeling of walking out there and standing in the crowd with a much different atmosphere than it was today.
Seth Curry was a huge factor early—he toyed with us. He got any shot he wanted, he was 8-10 a half. He didn’t shoot as many or shoot it as well in the second half. Mason (Plumlee) was a load for us in the second half, and they just made more plays. At the six-, seven-minute mark I thought we had a chance when P.J. (Hairston) made that three—that was our only three of the game—but we didn’t get stops the next two possessions. One of them was an offensive rebound. It’s not a very good feeling, but I don’t want this game to define what this team has done. This team has done some good things. This is the youngest team I’ve ever coached. We get to play again, and that’s what they have to focuse on and make sure that this doesn’t define what this team is.
When you made the line-up change last month is this the kind of game you feared…?
If you go back the whole course of the season when we haven’t shot the ball well—that was some of those really ugly games early—so it’s been a fear all the time. The change in the line-up doesn’t make us the strongest rebounding team or the strongest defensive team, but it did make us the strongest offensive team. We got by and won a few games down the stretch because we competed and were pretty tough, but we made a bunch of shots. Yeah, coaches always have fears about what can happen. But early in the season we didn’t make a lot of shots and didn’t compete as hard. Then we got into a stretch where we made shots and competed a lot harder. Today, Duke was just a step ahead of us to every ball.
The team seemed unsettled at the beginning. How would you describe it—was it an intensity thing?
I wish I could tell you. I think that they hit us right in the mouth. Mason takes a pretty difficult jump hook from distance and makes it. Then I think Seth makes a three, Tyler (Thornton) makes a three. We took two rushed shots and had two turnovers in our first four possessions, I think. I’ve been in this building when we were down 12-0 and won; I’ve been in this building when we were down 20 at halftime and down 30, I think., early in the first half against Georgia Tech and came back and won, so I wasn’t concerned about the score, but I was concerned about the look on our face. I felt like every shot we took we were hesitant or tight. You can make up whatever it is, but I didn’t like the way we looked every shot we took. We never got out of that hole.
You mentioned that you get to play again. You have been so confident lately in the way your team has been playing. You have six days off, obviously, to get this out of your mind. Talk about the next few days.
Well, we’ve got to give them some time because mentally it’s been a tough stretch for a young team. We need to give them a little bit of time, but also we’ve got a little bit of work to do. I’ve never had a team that’s folded, and this team is not going to fold. We are going to go back to work and we’ll work extremely hard, and we’ll play well the next game—I believe that from the bottom of my soul. But we do have to give them a little time. I told my team six games ago that, ‘Let’s play these last six games—let’s really play these last six games. I think we did for five of them but not today.
With Curry in the first half, was it just a matter of him making shots whether he was guarded well?
No, we didn’t guard—like I said, he just toyed with us. He stepped back, he goes through, he hits the open shot. He was in complete control on the offensive end, and we were a step slow, getting a hand up a step slow, staying in front of him, getting closer to him. Twice we had a switch—if we are going to switch we try to be aggressive, and we switched and stayed back, then he just pulled up and shot an open three.
Starting the seniors on Senior Night is obviously a tradition that means a lot to you. How much does it mean when you know you are giving up an advantage?
I’d do it 9,000 times out of 9,000. Carolina Basketball is more important than the first two minutes of a game. Frank did get sucked in one time and helped, and when Tyler made the three. Raymond Felton did that one time too, and ‘til the day they fire me or the day they put me in the grave I’m going to start those seniors on Senior Day. And the record is pretty good.