North Carolina loses to Duke, but it’s not all bad news for the Tar Heels

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North Carolina fans aren’t accustomed to seeing their team rack up moral victories, and rightfully so. When you’re one of the nation’s most storied basketball programs, a team that has sent countless players to the NBA and has won two of the last seven national titles, looking for the bright side of a loss isn’t normal.

But this year’s version of the Tar Heels is not a normal North Carolina team.

They’re young. They’re still learning how to play. They don’t have stars in the spots where you normally expect North Carolina to have stars.

And thus, after watching the Tar Heels waste a double-digit first half lead against arch-nemesis Duke on the road, losing 73-68, I’m not walking away thinking that life in Chapel Hill is over.

The last time we saw North Carolina play, they were getting dominated by No. 3 Miami in Miami. The Hurricanes jumped out to an early lead, hitting 15 threes and throwing alley-oops off the back board en route to an 87-61 win in front of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. It was, pure and simple, an embarrassment.

Wednesday wasn’t.

In fact, if the Tar Heels didn’t miss six straight free throws in the second half, this would have been a very different basketball game.

For what feels like the first time since they hosted UNLV back in December, North Carolina was active and aggressive on defense. They jumped out to a 28-18 lead on the Blue Devils not simply because of a hot shooting start, but because they played as tough a brand of basketball as we’ve seen this season. They forced turnovers, they got a hand in the face of shooters and they forced Mason Plumlee to catch the ball 16 feet away from the basket. They took the Blue Devils out of any rhythm on the offensive end of the floor.

It didn’t last, as Plumlee and Quinn Cook both combined for 18 points while Tyler Thornton’s hot-hand in the second half sparked the game-changing surge.

But then again, not many people even expected North Carolina to keep the game this close. Be honest: did you really think that the Heels would have a chance to win at Cameron Indoor Stadium before this game began?

There is some talent on the UNC roster. There aren’t a lot of great teams in the country this season. With the ACC in the midst of a down-season, there are plenty of games to be won in the ACC.

The Tar Heels still should make the NCAA tournament. They still have a chance to make some noise in March. And seeing them play this way should give some confidence — both to the fans, the players and the coaching staff — that this season can get better.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

2017 NCAA Tournament Final Four schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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National Semifinals– Saturday, April 1

6:09 p.m. EST, CBS, Glendale
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Approximately 40 minutes after conclusion of first game, CBS, Glendale
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 3 Oregon (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

VIDEO: The insane final 10 seconds of North Carolina’s win over Kentucky

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North Carolina and Kentucky ended in legendary fashion on Sunday.

After freshman Malik Monk buried a heavily-contested three-pointer to tie the game at 73-all for Kentucky with under 10 seconds left the Tar Heels didn’t use a timeout as Theo Pinson found forward Luke Maye for the game-winning jumper.

These 10 seconds will go down as one of the greatest finishes in NCAA Tournament history.

No. 1 seed North Carolina outlasts No. 2 seed Kentucky to advance to the Final Four

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North Carolina advanced to the Final Four for the second consecutive season and 20th time overall as the No. 1 seed Tar Heels outlasted No. 2 seed Kentucky, 75-73, during Sunday’s South Regional final in Memphis.

Reserve forward Luke Maye knocked in the game-winning jumper for the Tar Heels with 0.3 seconds left to break a 73-all tie after Kentucky’s Malik Monk tied the game with a three-pointer on the previous possession.

The Tar Heels (31-7) overcame an ankle issue from junior point guard Joel Berry as North Carolina was led by Justin Jackson’s 19 points.

Maye also stepped up with a big game for North Carolina as he continued his strong March with 17 points. Berry added 11 points, as he went to the locker room during the first half to get his ankle looked at before returning to play later in the half.

Kentucky (32-6) won the regular-season matchup of these teams, 103-100, in Las Vegas in December as their freshmen guards struggled to perform on Sunday. After De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk combined for 71 points in that previous win over the Tar Heels, the two freshmen studs couldn’t get going.

Both of them dealt with first-half foul trouble as Fox finished with 13 points while Monk was held to 12 points. Also battling foul trouble in the first half, freshman Bam Adebayo added 13 points for the Wildcats.

With Fox and Monk struggling to generate consistent offense, the Wildcats were able to stay in the game thanks to great performances from reserves like Isaac Humphries (career-high 12 points) and senior Dominique Hawkins (10 points.

North Carolina advances to face No. 3 seed Oregon in next weekend’s Final Four.

VIDEO: South Carolina celebrates Final Four trip by dousing Frank Martin in water

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South Carolina earned its first trip to the Final Four with its win over SEC-rival Florida on Sunday.

The Gamecocks made sure to celebrate properly when head coach Frank Martin hit the locker room after the game by dousing him in water before Martin gave another speech.

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/846124174259118080/video/1

VIDEO: Darius Rucker tears up as South Carolina advances to the Final Four

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Darius Rucker, the former front man of Hootie and the Blowfish and a current star in the country music world, is a lifelong South Carolina Gamecocks fan.

This isn’t really a secret.

Hell, on Friday night at a concert he was playing, Rucker set up TVs so that he would be able to watch South Carolina take on Baylor:

You probably didn’t realize just how big of a fan he actually is until you saw him, sitting second row at the regional final in New York City on Sunday afternoon, tearing up as the Gamecocks advanced to the Final Four:

Let ’em cry, Darius, if the tears fall down like rain.