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February 8, 2012

Bad habits cost Heels

Basketball, as with all other aspects of life, is built on habits.

However one performs every action every day, a habit is developed.

North Carolina's bad habit of losing its concentration and poise once it builds a lead surfaced at the worst possible time for the Tar Heels on Wednesday against arch-rival Duke.

No matter how much Coach Roy Williams and his players wish to credit Duke in the Blue Devils' shocking last second 85-84 victory on Wednesday, this loss belongs wholly to the Tar Heels.

Carolina deserves full credit for this one.

Yes, Austin Rivers made a great shot at the right time, but his shot would not have mattered if the Tar Heels had played the entire game.

Carolina had a 10 point lead with 2 minutes and 38 seconds left and simply stopped executing. The Tar Heels got sloppy, just as they have time and again this year.

Carolina is last in the ACC in free-throw shooting and this characteristic reared its ugly head down the stretch. UNC went 8-of-15 from the free-throw line in the second half.

Just two more of those free throws go in and they win.

Instead, they missed free throws, made sloppy passes, let rebounds bounce off their hands. Offensively, they were a train wreck in the final few minutes.

On the other end, Duke had to be elated at how the Tar Heels kept the door propped open for it.

"North Carolina is really good," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "They can knock you out. They didn't knock us out."

The fact is the Tar Heels have knocked out few teams this year when it had a large lead.

Playing sloppily is the worst habit this team has developed throughout this season.

"I don't think we lost our concentration in the last three minutes of the game," Kendall Marshall said. "We have finished teams in the last three minutes. Our losses this year haven't been decided in the last three minutes."

Unfortunately, Marshall misses the point on this one. It is not the losses that led to defeat against Duke. It was the lackadaisical, mindless play while leading teams that surfaced and cost them this time.

"I just thought we made some mistakes at the end," Williams said. "That is the bottom line. We turned it over and missed a few free throws. We had been closing games pretty well. But we didn't tonight. You just have to congratulate Duke and Mike and his staff."

The facts point otherwise. Carolina has consistently built big leads only to coast. UNC could have crushed Georgia Tech, but instead the Tar Heels coasted.

The Tar Heels led the Yellow Jackets 52-32 at the half. Yet Georgia Tech pulled to within 93-81, and it was not because Georgia Tech made some heroic run.

Carolina coasted.

That kind of behavior may have seemed like no big deal on that night, but Wednesday proves that failing to learn from such performances lead to costly habits, habits that can cost a team critical games later down the line.

Williams and his players can say all they want about not letting off the gas on a regular basis, but if those are not just words for public consumption, if those words are their true thoughts, this team is in trouble.

If UNC really believes that nonsense, the Tar Heels are destined to finish heartbroken in March.

Carolina fans are going to complain because the refs turned to Duke's in the second half, but great teams adjust and overcome.

UNC became sloppy.

Then on the last play, no one may ever know why Tyler Zeller stood inside the 3-point line and watched Rivers bury the winning shot. Had Zeller come to the line, Rivers would had to move for a better shot.

Instead he fired a rainbow that ended in gold for Duke and bankruptcy for Carolina.

"We know how we can play," John Henson said. "We just have to finish it, finish games off."

There is the truth and the bottom line. It is a truth the Tar Heels can dodge at their own peril.


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