CHAPEL HILL, NC -- As the final buzzer sounded at this utterly forgettable installment of college basketball's greatest rivalry, Duke coach
The man in the crowd was
The second was the 2009-10 season, which suffered a more grisly death an hour later when the Blue Devils defeated North Carolina 64-54.
Yes, North Carolina technically still has seven regular season games remaining plus the ACC tournament, but the loss to Duke dropped the Tar Heels to 2-7 in the ACC (13-11 overall), which means barring a miracle run in the ACC tournament the Tar Heels will not be playing in the NCAA tournament. The only thing they are playing for now is pride, but remember now, this is North Carolina. They don't hang banners around here for pride.
Let the record show the 2009-10 season did not expire without a fight. It actually had a detectable pulse midway through the second half, when North Carolina mustered a 43-39 lead with just under 12 minutes to play. But once Duke started driving to the rim and attacking the offensive glass, North Carolina had no answer. When Duke freshman center
There were not a lot of tears at this funeral, just an air of resignation.
Nor did the players even bother trying to pretend that the NCAA tournament was a realistic goal. I asked sophomore point guard
All of the factors that have conspired to kill what was once a promising season were on vivid display Wednesday night. The first was injuries. Williams noted afterward that the Heels' frontcourt depth was supposed to be their biggest asset, but two of their best big men, 7-foot sophomore
The absence of Zeller and Wear contributed to Duke's ability to snare a whopping 23 offensive rebounds. It also didn't help that North Carolina's guards were unable to stop Duke's dribble penetration. During the first 30 minutes, Duke had used its three-point shooting to stay within striking distance (the Blue Devils finished the game 9-of-18 from behind the arc). Over the decisive final stretch, when the Blue Devils went back to attacking the basket, North Carolina was unable to counter with buckets of its own. That allowed Duke to extend its lead, and Blue Devils senior guard
The 54 points North Carolina scored Wednesday night was the team's lowest in Williams' seven years as head coach at his alma mater. Their 34.5 percent field goal shooting and eight assists were season lows. You can put that on the tombstone.
"I thought we had as much intensity the first 30 minutes that we had the whole season," Williams said. "After that, their work on the offensive boards [was the difference]. They seemed to be more hungry to get there."
Bet you didn't know something could die from lack of hunger.
Alas, for now this team has no choice but to soldier on and complete its morbid procession. I asked Williams during his news conference where he goes from here. "Upstairs," he deadpanned. "Go home and watch the dadgum tape, come to practice tomorrow and see if we can get better."
But your team is 2-7 in the ACC. How do you keep their spirits up? "There's no difference. We've got to play," he said. "You can be 2-7 or 70-2. We've got to freaking practice, we've got a game, we've got to play."
The Tar Heels will play these last seven games not because they have so much pride, but because they have no choice. But make no mistake: There are no signs of life in Chapel Hill. On a night when Tyler Hansbrough gave the North Carolina faithful one last taste of blue heaven, the Duke Blue Devils tossed the last pieces of dirt on the Tar Heels' season from hell.