UNC basketball struggles to find its shot against Duke as Tar Heels fall to Blue Devils

Duke’s Ryan Young (15) battles for a rebound with North Carolina’s Leaky Black (1) during the first half on Saturday, February 4, 2023 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C.

February was supposed to be the time North Carolina developed clarity. After the Tar Heels’ 63-57 loss to Duke on Saturday, it’s clear they’re going to have to fix their offense.

The Heels (15-8, 7-5 ACC) shot 34 percent from the field, marking the third time in the past four games they were held below 40 percent.

Carolina again fell into a habit of launching 3-pointers in the second half instead of attacking the basket. The Heels attempted 19 of their 27 total 3s after halftime, accounting for 54 percent of their field goal attempts.

UNC forward Armando Bacot has typically been their security blanket when they’ve needed a basket all season. But Duke freshman Dereck Lively, who had eight blocked shots, was able to limit him to 14 points on 6-fo-12 shooting.

UNC forward Pete Nance scored his first basket of the game to tie it at 57 with 3:55 left. But the Heels found no easy baskets and went on a scoring drought that lasted the remainder of the game.

Leaky Black, who scored 13 points and made all three of his 3-pointers in the second half, had a chance to put UNC ahead with a minute left and a wide-open attempt from the left corner. His shot missed and Duke’s Jeremy Roach gave them a two-possession lead with his driving layup on R.J. Davis, who was saddled with four fouls, with 23 seconds left.

Black hadn’t reached double figures scoring since netting a career-high 18 points against Wake Forest on Jan. 4. But Black’s offense carried the Heels through a rough start to the second half.

Black’s 3-pointer from the right corner was their only basket in their first 10 shot attempts. It wasn’t until Black hit another 3 from the left corner that the rest of the Heels finally found a rhythm offensively.

Carolina made four of their next six shots to erase a six-point deficit and take a 45-44 lead on a Caleb Love floater in the paint.

Puff Johnson also played a role in the spurt, replacing Pete Nance in the lineup. Nance, the graduate transfer from Northwestern, had a rough time shooting in his rivalry debut. He missed his first seven shots from the field.

It was Johnson’s deflection and steal that stopped a Duke fast break and led to Carolina’s first fast break points in the game with 12:14 left. Duke had outscored Carolina 16-0 in fast break points in the first half and finished with a 20-2 advantage.