Prior to the lineup change in the first meeting against Duke on Feb. 13, UNC had trailed by six points or more in the opening 10 minutes in four of its previous five games.
On Saturday, Duke connected on its first six field goals to build a 14-0 lead with 16:32 to play. The Blue Devils extended that lead to 26-9 with 11:44 on the clock by converting 12 of its first 14 attempts, including a pair of 3-pointers.
“They hit us right in the mouth,” Williams told reporters following the 69-53 loss.
Duke averaged 1.73 points per possession over its first 15, while UNC countered with a 0.6 mark through its first 15 possessions.
“It’s like we weren’t even out there,” said sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo, who led UNC with 15 points.
UNC’s offensive ineptitude paralleled its defensive deficiencies. The Tar Heels’ first seven possessions read like a coach’s nightmare – two missed jumpers, four turnovers and one made free throw. North Carolina had an equal number of turnovers and field goals – six – until a Joel James offensive rebound and putback with 3:28 left before halftime.
The Tar Heels responded to Duke’s offensive explosion with poor shot selection. A significant factor in UNC’s six-game winning streak was an aggressive, attacking approach off the dribble to either get to the rim or create an open look on the perimeter. Against the Blue Devils, however, the Tar Heels wasted possession after possession.
“I wasn’t concerned about the score, but I was really concerned about the look on our face,” Williams said. “I felt like every shot we took we were hesitant or tight… I didn’t like the way we looked with every shot that we took.”
A consistent theme in the North Carolina locker room after the game focused on UNC’s deficiencies rather than Duke’s overall effectiveness.
“They made shots,” guard P.J. Hairston said. “They didn’t do anything special. They didn’t do anything that we hadn’t gone over or looked at on tape. They just made shots and we didn’t make shots.”
Duke guard Seth Curry was lethal during the opening 10 minutes, connecting on his first seven field goals to score 15 of the Blue Devils’ first 28 points.
Reggie Bullock, the Tar Heel tasked with defending Curry, offered this explanation:
“He was hot.”
“I was just trying to contain him,” he continued. “I did a terrible job on him in the first half. He was making some tough shots. I wasn’t sliding my feet quickly enough.”
Curry, who finished with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, has proven to be effective against the Tar Heels throughout his career. The senior guard is averaging 15.9 points and shooting 48.9 percent from 3-point range (22-of-45) in seven career games against UNC.
Duke cooled off ever so slightly after its opening barrage, finishing the first half with a 69.2 shooting percentage. That mark represents the highest shooting percentage for a UNC opponent in a half this season (Virginia shot 62.5 percent in the first half on Feb. 16).
“They made all of their shots early; we didn’t make very many shots,” Williams said. “One of the characteristics of this team the last three weeks is that we’ve made shots. Duke’s defense was stronger than our offense was and Duke’s offense was stronger than our defense was.”
North Carolina’s 42-24 halftime deficit was its second largest of the season. UNC trailed N.C. State by 19 in its loss in Raleigh on Jan. 26.