Duke's Luke Kennard (5) and North Carolina's Justin Jackson struggle for possession of the ball during the second half of a game Feb. 9 in Durham. The then No. 18 Blue Devils pulled away late for an 86-78 win over the then No. 8 Tar Heels.
North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik talk prior to a game against Pittsburgh in Chapel Hill on Sept. 24, 2016. Chizik announced Thursday that he was stepping down after two seasons to spend more time with his family in Alabama. Linebackers coach John Papuchis was named as his replacement.
By Ross Martin
Special to the Times
North Carolina had chances against Duke on Thursday night inside a packed and rowdy Cameron Indoor, but fell short in the final minutes and lost 86-78. It was hard-fought game featuring all the intensity of a classic Tobacco Road battle.
The hot-shooting Blue Devils (52.6 percent from the field and 48.1 percent from 3-point range) were too much for the Tar Heels, who went 1-for-8 from the field in the final minutes and shot 55.6 percent (10-for-18) from the free-throw line for the game.
The Duke trio of Grayson Allen (25 points), Luke Kennard (20 points), and Jayson Tatum (19 points) bested UNC, which was was led by Justin Jackson’s 21 points and Joel Berry’s 15.
The Tar Heels got junior small forward Theo Pinson back for the game, but starting senior forward Isaiah Hicks missed the contest with a strained left hamstring. Without Hicks, Carolina was unable to take advantage of its size advantage inside and struggled to guard Duke’s smaller, more athletic and versatile lineup
Head coach Roy Williams cited missed free throws, lack of offensive execution, and poor rebounding as the reasons UNC lost on Thursday.
“We didn’t make the plays we needed to in the last three or four minutes. You’ve got to give them credit,” Williams said. “You can pick out anything. We didn’t make free throws. We didn’t run our offense effectively three straight possessions.”
While Kennedy Meeks scored nine points and Luke Maye and Tony Bradley each scored eight in Hicks’s absence, Williams was not happy with UNC’s inside game.
“We didn’t get a lot of good movement inside,” he said. “I was disappointed in that. I didn’t like our rebounding. I didn’t like our lack of scoring inside.”
GOALS REMAIN INTACT
Despite the loss, UNC, which fell from No. 8 to 10th in The Associated Press Top 25, still remains atop the Atlantic Coast Conference standings with a clear shot a winning the league and an outside shot at snagging a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament.
In the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee’s early in-season seedings that were released Saturday, the Tar Heels were given a No. 2 seed in the South Regional.
“Our goal is intact. We are still up there,” Pinson said Thursday night inside UNC’s locker room. “We got a chance to still win it. We got to take care of ourselves and win games.”
After Wednesday’s game at N.C. State, UNC has to play Virginia (twice), Louisville, Pitt and Duke to close out the season.
“We’ve got to win out,” senior point guard Nate Britt said after the loss in Durham. “If we want a 1 seed, we’ve got to win out. We can’t leave anything up to chance. We have to learn from it, put it behind us, and keep moving forward.”
HICKS UPDATE — SORT OF
Williams gave an update, sort of, on Hicks’ status during Monday’s ACC Teleconference.
“We still don’t know if he’s going to play against North Carolina State,” Williams said.
Hicks has been limited in practice and has not been doing any full-court work.
A starter for UNC in every game this season, Hicks is averaging 24.1 minutes, 12.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. He leads the Tar Heels in field-goal shooting at 61.0 percent and is shooting 80.1 percent from the free-throw line.
Williams said that they will have a better idea of Hicks’ status for the N.C. State game after Tuesday’s practice.
CHIZIK STEPS DOWN AS DC
The big news from UNC football defensive coordinator Gene Chizik has stepped down from his post to spend more time with his family. In Chapel Hill for two seasons, Chizik has been living apart from his wife and kids, who stayed in Auburn, Alabama.
“After a lot of prayer and discussions with my wife and children, I have made the difficult decision to step away from coaching to be with my family,” Chizik said in a prepared statement. “The past two years at the University of North Carolina and the opportunity to work with Coach (Larry) Fedora have been a blessing, and I’m extremely proud of the success we enjoyed. I have always told my players that family should come before football, and it’s time for me to follow my own advice. I look forward to watching my own son play the game I’ve dedicated my life and career to for the next two years, and I look forward to the simple joys of being a father and husband I’ve missed out on.”
“These last two years with Gene have been exactly what I hoped they would be,” said Fedora in a release. “The defensive improvement speaks for itself, but I’m equally as proud of the growth and development of our student-athletes on the defensive side of the ball. I hate to lose Gene but certainly understand the reasoning behind his decision, I know it’s been hard on him and his family. We wish the Chizik family all the best and appreciate their dedication to Tar Heel football.”
Chizik made an immediate impact on the UNC program in his first season, leading one of the most impressive turnarounds in college football. Carolina was the nation’s most improved defense among Power 5 conference teams in 2015 en route to a record-setting 11-3 season, a berth in the ACC championship game and a No. 15 final ranking in both national polls.
John Papuchis, who spent the last two seasons as Carolina’s linebackers coach, will take over as defensive coordinator.
“John is a natural fit to take over our defense given his role the last two years and his previous experience as a coordinator,” said Fedora. “He knows our players and staff and will seamlessly transition into an expanded role.”
Papuchis spent three seasons as the defensive coordinator at Nebraska.
FootballScoop.com is reporting that Mike Ekeler will be hired by UNC as the new linebackers coach.
On Saturday, UNC also lost running backs coach Larry Porter, who left for Auburn. That role has not been filled. Porter is the fourth assistant coach to leave North Carolina this offseason.
Defensive backs coach Charlton Warren and defensive line coach Tray Scott left UNC earlier this year for SEC jobs. Those roles were filled by Terry Joseph (previously the defensive backs coach at Texas A&M) and Deke Adams (previously the defensive line coach at East Carolina).
Ross Martin covers North Carolina basketball, football and recruiting for 247Sports.com and CBS Sports. Check out more of his work at northcarolina.247sports.com.