It’s hard to keep your patience when your NCAA tournament hopes are freefalling. And North Carolina showed that again, during its 64-54 loss to Duke at the Smith Center on Wednesday night.
Leading by four points with about 12 minutes left, the Tar Heels went cold, giving in to Duke’s defense by hurrying shots, and burying only four of their last 17 attempts.
Their 54 points marked the fewest of the Roy Williams era, surpassing the 56 they scored in a five-point loss at Kentucky in January, 2004.
“Up until that point, we did a much better job than in the past of waiting for better shots, taking better shots,’’ said senior Marcus Ginyard, who was 3-for-10 with seven points. “We weren’t as patient those last 10 minutes as we were earlier in the game – just taking some shots that were marginal, and we just weren’t putting them in.”
Carolina, looking more inspired than it had during its three previous losses, led 43-39 on a Dexter Strickland layup with 11:52 left. But the Tar Heels managed only two field goals – a tip-in by Deon Thompson, and a 3-pointer by Will Graves – until Graves buried a runner in the lane with 54.6 seconds left. By then, Duke led 61-52. And point guard Larry Drew II’s field goal with 21 seconds left only served to cut the final margin to 10.
“We weren’t making plays, and they showed why they’re the No.  team in the country,’’ said Graves, who led the team with 13 points. “[Jon] Scheyer was making plays. Every time they had an answer for what we did. And even when we weren’t doing something,”
UNC didn’t only miss long jumpers, but easy free throws. Forward Ed Davis missed two foul shots, then both he and freshman John Henson missed the front end of one-and-one plays during the stretch. (Although Henson went on to bury two more by the end of the game.)
For the game, UNC (13-11, 2-7 ACC) buried only 34.5 percent of its shots.
“Down the stretch, we could have taken an extra second to get a better shot,’’ said senior Deon Thompson, who was 3-for-7 with 10 points.
Instead, they’re ever-closer to missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003.
DREW HURTING: Drew had ice on his left knee and right calf in the postgame. He hurt the knee when he bumped legs with Duke senior Lance Thomas, who had to be carried off the court. He said he hurt his Achilles tendon earlier this week. Drew played through both injuries, scoring 11 points on 4-for-15 shooting.
WEAR OUT: UNC freshman Travis Wear was in street clothes and is out indefinitely after severely spraining his ankle, the school announced Wednesday morning. The injury occurred when he stepped on a teammate's foot during Tuesday's practice; X-rays showed no fracture.
Wear, a reserve power forward, has played in all 22 games, and started one, this season. He is averaging 3.6 points and 2.7 rebounds, and his presence has been important without reserve sophomore Tyler Zeller, who has been sidelined for a month with a stress fracture in his right foot.