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The Tar Heels connected on six of their first nine field goal attempts after intermission to build a 43-39 lead with 11:52 to play. But UNC would grow cold while the Blue Devils warmed up, draining 12 of their final 23 opportunities from the field. Duke used a 22-7 run down the stretch to put away North Carolina for only the second time in the last eight meetings.
Will Graves led North Carolina with 13 points and eight rebounds, while Larry Drew added 11 points and four assists. Jon Scheyer paced Duke with 24 points, five rebounds and four assists, and Kyle Singler added 19 points and nine rebounds.
The Tar Heels shot 34.5 percent (20-of-58) for the game, while Duke managed just a 31.9 mark (22-of-69).
North Carolina's 54 points set a new record for the fewest points scored by a Roy Williams-coached Tar Heel team.
Owning the Boards
Duke entered Wednesday's contest leading the ACC in rebounding margin (plus-4.3) and offensive rebounding (14.5). The Tar Heels weren't far behind in those rankings, standing third in margin (plus-2.4) and second on the offensive glass (14.4), but you would have never known the minimal statistical differences in watching the Blue Devils' dominance on the boards.
By the time UNC had grabbed 19 defensive rebounds early in the second half, Duke had 19 offensive rebounds to its credit. By game's end, the Blue Devils had claimed a 51-42 rebounding victory, including a 23-14 advantage on the offensive glass.
"I just think it was their work on the offensive backboards," UNC head coach Roy Williams said in explaining the loss. "They seemed to be more hungry to get there. We just didn't do a good job of boxing out or chasing the ball down."
Fifth-year senior Marcus Ginyard echoed his coach's comments, saying. "We just weren't tough enough on our box-out assignments. There were a lot of long rebounds that they ended up chasing down that we just didn't get to. Those 50-50 balls – we'd like to say that they've got to be ours, but they got to them."
In all, Duke totaled 21 points off offensive rebounds.
It definitely helped the Blue Devils' rebounding totals that they missed 47 shots, but rebounding has been as much of a hallmark in Williams' career as his up-tempo transition game.
The Importance of Hitting Shots
Here's a statistic that you don't see everyday – with North Carolina leading 32-31 four minutes into the second half, Duke was shooting nine percent from 2-point territory. To put a numeric failure on that percentage, the Blue Devils had missed 29 of their 32 field goal attempts inside the 3-point line.
Knocking down seven of 14 3-pointers to that point helped, of course, but Duke's overall field goal percentage with 16 minutes remaining stood at 21.7. North Carolina was not much better in the first half, connecting on 32.3 percent of its attempts (10-of-31).
But the nature of this rivalry is for someone to step up and knock down the big shots necessary for victory. On Wednesday, that award went to Duke.
The Blue Devils connected on 12 of their final 23 shots (52.2) in overcoming the Tar Heels' four point lead at 43-39 with 11:52 remaining. North Carolina, however, managed just two field goals over the next 11 minutes as Duke jumped out to a 61-50 advantage with 1:08 left to play.
"We just lost our focus a little bit," Ginyard said. "We weren't executing as well and we weren't as patient to get a better shot. We took some marginal shots late in the game and they continued to work the ball around until they got a great shot."
Poor Post Production
During the preseason media blitz, North Carolina's frontcourt earned recognition as arguably the best unit in the country. But while injuries to Tyler Zeller and Travis Wear may have hurt on Wednesday night, starting forwards Ed Davis and Deon Thompson continue to prove the pundits wrong with average – at best – performances in ACC play.
Davis made his presence felt on the defensive end of the floor, blocking six shots, but the lanky sophomore only managed to pull down five rebounds. Offensively, Davis attempted just four field goals, including one drive to the basket from the key that somehow ended successfully. His inability to secure a stronghold in the post made entry passes few and far between.
Thompson suffered from a similar fate, connecting on 3-of-7 field goals for 10 points and four rebounds. The senior's first two attempts were launched from 10 feet or more.
Part of the blame this season has revolved around poor entry passes, but the bigger problem has been their struggles in carving out a position in the post.
"Ed and [me] have been working harder to demand the ball and get lower and being wider," Thompson told reporters on Tuesday afternoon.
North Carolina's game plan begins with Thompson and Davis, and that was evident against Duke as the starting duo attempted five shots in the first four minutes. They combined to attempt six field goals over the final 36 minutes of play.
After averaging a combined 31.2 points per game in nonconference action, Thompson and Davis are providing just 20.4 points as a pair in ACC contests. There is plenty of blame to go around in Chapel Hill, but the lone known quantity entering the 2009-10 season has failed to live up to its billing.