Tar Heels Release The Air in Cameron

Brandan Wright, Josh McRoberts
With Duke keying in on Tyler Hansbrough, it is North Carolina freshman Brandan Wright that slams the Blue Devils at Cameron. (Grant Halverson - Getty Images)
By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 8, 2007

DURHAM, N.C., Feb. 7 -- For one half, Duke mustered all the magic Cameron Indoor Stadium could create, blowing through a deeper, more talented team, thwarting hated rival North Carolina and looking like a typical, tour-de-force Duke team, which this season's version is not.

But it could not last, and instead of a galvanizing victory, the Blue Devils will wake up Thursday morning facing the unfamiliar prospect of mediocrity. No. 5 North Carolina erased a 10-point second-half deficit and suffocated No. 16 Duke down the stretch, escaping with a 79-73 victory on Wednesday and handing Duke its first three-game losing streak since 1999.

"It's another tough one, and it doesn't get any easier for us," said Duke freshman Jon Scheyer, who scored a game-high 26 points. "It's a shame. We let it slip away. It's really frustrating."

Carolina freshmen Brandan Wright and Ty Lawson became the rivalry's newest stars, Wright for carrying the Tar Heels back and Lawson for slamming the door shut. Wright scored 19 points, 15 of which came in the second half, as fellow big man Tyler Hansbrough struggled to find a rhythm. Lawson's game-deciding hoop came with 1 minute 46 seconds left, an electrifying three-point play that put the Heels up seven.

The basket cemented a bitter week for Duke, which lost its third straight game for the first time since the 1999 season. The loss was Duke's second straight at Cameron after losing to Florida State on Sunday and its third at the building this season. It dropped the Blue Devils to 5-5 in the ACC, sixth place. Next up is Maryland at Comcast Center, a game that could break either team's season.

"We have to learn from this," point guard Greg Paulus said. "When you want to come to Duke, there's going to be good times, there's going to be bad times. We're going to be able to show our character."

Carolina (21-3, 7-2) took its first lead with 5:15 left to play, when Reyshawn Terry broke behind Duke's defense, gathered a long outlet and had his layup goaltended by Gerald Henderson. Wright made it 64-60 on UNC's next possession, and Duke suddenly had fewer than five minutes to come back from a four-point deficit. It never led again.

Duke had led by 10 less than two minutes into the second half, but Carolina had stormed back by feeding the ball not to all-American center Hansbrough, but to Wright. Though Hansbrough finished with 16 points, Duke stifled him in the first half and UNC needed Wright to come through.

"There's no time that we ever think we're out of the game," Wright said. "You can't give up, you can't have that mentality. We never thought we were out of the game."

Scheyer had given Duke the lead by scoring nine straight points in the first half. He gunned in four of his 10 three-pointers, but it was not enough.

Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski started 7-foot freshman Brian Zoubek in place of highly touted sophomore Josh McRoberts, the team's second-leading scorer at 13.2 points per game. He also sat senior DeMarcus Nelson, which, with Carolina's youthful starting lineup, made six of the 10 starters freshmen. The Blue Devils responded by storming to a 16-5 lead, making five of their first six shots.

But the hot start unraveled, and Duke was left to ponder another loss. The mental edge the Blue Devils once held over the ACC seems to have disappeared, as has the all-American combination of J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams. Still, Krzyzewski beamed with optimism afterward, saying he liked the way Duke played, regardless of the result.

"You can't get down," he said. "I mean, you can get down, but if you get down you're not deserving of winning. We cannot get down about losing, especially the way we lost. We played three very tough games that we played winning basketball in. You cry, you shed a few tears, and let's go."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company