R.L. Bynum, Correspondent
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina has shown the ability to overcome a bad perimeter-shooting game to win many times this season.
The No. 2-seed and No. 3-ranked Tar Heels did it despite 2 of 20 3-point shooting at Duke and they nearly did it with 4 of 27 shooting Friday night in the ACC Tournament semifinals against the Blue Devils.
If one of two 3-point attempts in the final minute fell, UNC probably would have won.
Coach Roy Williams called for the same pick-and-pop play that forced overtime at Miami.
The play came unraveled this time, as No. 3-seed and No. 4-ranked Duke held on for a 74-73 victory to advance to Saturday’s championship game against Florida State.
The difference is that when Luke Maye forced overtime with a 3-pointer off of a Coby White pass in UNC’s 88-85 victory at Miami, the Tar Heels had 13 3-pointers.
UNC never got off the planned shot Friday, which Maye, again, was supposed to take.
“I think when we got the ball, it was 12 [seconds] but then Tre [Jones] was denying me, so I had to get open and that wasted about five seconds,” White said.
“We didn’t really have time to get it where we wanted to get it, the screen where we wanted to get the screen, because of time. We set the screen, they played it and they read it.”
White ended up missing a 3-point attempt from the right wing with three seconds left, which Nassir Little tried unsuccessfully to tip in.
White says he lost his balance just before that shot.
“Yeah, I was trying to drive. But I slipped, and then I had to throw something up and it just didn’t fall,” White said.
Before tripping, it appeared that Little might be open inside.
With 47 seconds left, White fed Little for a dunk that put UNC up by one.
Kenny Williams made a wide open 3-pointer in the second half, but the Tar Heels missed all 12 of their other attempts.
Most were closely contested when they were taken, and many close-outs prevented other shots from even being taken.
“You know we don’t shoot like that,” said White, who missed all six attempts from 3-point range.
“We can really shoot the ball and tonight we didn’t and we still had a chance to win the game. I feel like that says a lot about us.”
Carolina didn’t have to deal with Zion Williamson in its two regular-season wins over Duke, and he was tough for the Tar Heels to stop.
It seemed like he could score whenever he got the ball, as he finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds.
“He’s a very talented player,” said Luke Maye, who had 14 points and 13 rebounds and put UNC up by four with a nice drive on Williamson with 2:46 left.
“But it’s a team game and we didn’t have the ball bounce our way a couple of times and we’ve just got to learn from it. It’s tough, but we’ve just got to get better. It just came down to little things.”
Williamson’s defensive presence had a definite effect on UNC’s inside game.
The Tar Heels had 62 inside points at Duke but got outscored inside 50-38 Friday.
“You live by the jump shot, you die by the jump shot,” Coach Roy Williams said.
“But their defense forced us to be impatient with the ball. You should never just rely on jump shots. I have never seen a team that relies on jump shots to win everything. Never. Maybe Villanova last year but they scored inside as well.”
He said his team took the wrong offensive approach.
“When they’re pressuring you have to attack and we didn’t attack,” Williams said.
“We took the easy way out and took quick jump shots, and we didn’t shoot the ball worth a darn. And if you don’t shoot it well, it makes it really difficult for us.”
Just like in the win last weekend against Duke, UNC went on a scoring drought in the final minutes but managed to get by with repeated stops.
But a Williamson layup with 31 seconds left gave Duke the lead for good.
“I will say in the last four minutes, we locked down on defense,” Kenny Williams said.
“We just have to do better on offense. If we can get better on offense the way our defense is improving, I think we can put it together and make a big run in the tournament.”
UNC was well in control in the first half when Cameron Johnson scored 14 points in the first six minutes and led by 13 with 6:24 left in the opening half.
But Johnson was denied many 3-point attempts the rest of the way, and missed a 3-point attempt with 18 seconds left.
“I was trying to get Coby back door,” Johnson, who finished with 23 points, said of that miss.
“They covered it pretty well. I ended up getting the space I wanted. And when the shot left my hand, I could have sworn it went down. It felt great coming off the hand. I could have bet a thousand dollars right there that that shot was falling but it just didn’t.”
Now, UNC can only rest and wait to see if it has done enough to earn a No. 1 seed.
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