North Carolina should have enlisted the assistance of Duke’s “Crazy Towel Guy” on Saturday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The Tar Heels needed Herb Neubauer in a bad - really bad - way for this last regular-season basketball game. They needed him to wave those white towels to signal an unconditional surrender in exchange for a peaceful cease fire and the freedom to make an early retreat to Chapel Hill.
Instead, Carolina had to hang around until the final curtain call and an 82-50 licking on senior night for Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas.
It was a miserable excursion into the sort of embarrassment no one could have dreamed possible at the season’s outset for the Heels, who now take a 16-15 record (5-11 ACC) and No. 10 seeding into Thursday’s opening round of the league tournament for an ESPN2-only game against No. 7 Georgia Tech (19-11, 7-9) at 7 p.m. The Yellow Jackets won both regular-season games - by two at Carolina on Jan. 16 and by 17 on Feb. 16 in Atlanta.
Duke (26-5, 13-3) will go to Greensboro as the No. 1 seed and open Friday at noon against the winner of Thursday’s 8-9 game between Boston College and Virginia.
Exactly how far the offensive triumvir of Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith can carry the Blue Devils in the postseason has been a topic of lively debate for weeks now. What is certain is that they are entirely capable of smoking Carolina with ease in a game of 3-on-5.
With about two minutes left in Saturday’s first half, the three Devils had 44 points - Singler 19, Smith 14 and Scheyer 11. Carolina, at that point, had 21 points en route to a 53-26 halftime deficit. They finished with 65 - Singler’s 25 and 20 each by Scheyer and Smith. Duke entered as a 14-point favorite, a modest spread considering Duke won by 10 in Chapel Hill on Feb. 10.
Since that point in the season, the Tar Heels have piled up a few more injuries while shooting less than 40 percent on field-goal attempts, an entirely accurate reflection of how difficult it is for Roy Williams’ team to execute any semblance of an offense.
“It was a very negative experience,” Williams said. “If we can learn something from this and change our ways, we can take something from it. But you have to change. You have to make those changes.”
That would be a long shot for his poor-shooting team.
In its 100th year of competition, the school has unveiled a couple of commemorative uniforms for what quickly turned into a disappointing celebration of excellence. The 1957 replicas of an undefeated team were used a time or two and there was a mostly silver outfit to mark Michael Jordan's 25th year of affiliation with Nike.
But the jersey that might suit this team best would be one that has “AAU-NC” embroidered on the front. That’s what these Carolina players have most resembled - a random collection of AAU summer campers.
A few of the Tar Heels can jump and dunk with the best of ‘em. But when it comes to mastering the crafts that have made Duke a big winner - shooting, defending, passing, screening, rebound positioning, loose-ball chasing - the Heels actually panned out to be less impressive in March than they were in November.
Some - but hardly all - of Carolina’s trouble can be attributed to the absence of forward Ed Davis, who suffered a broken left wrist during that first game against Duke. When the 6-foot-10 sophomore went down, he was averaging 10.1 points through eight conference games. A player’s total worth goes beyond scoring alone, but Carolina was deep into its nosedive long before Davis’ injury.
As Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski pointed out, his guys never took a play off in its two games against Carolina this season. That’s not unusual since Duke players rarely take a rest. But they could have Saturday.
In college basketball’s most famous rivalry, Carolina was out of it inside the opening four minutes. The Heels surrendered without going through the formality of tossing a towel.