A Different Feel

This one had a different feel.

By this one, of course, I mean the Comeback Run That Wasn’t: a five-minute stretch in the middle of the 2nd half where Duke went on a 16-7 run to cut the deficit to just 75-64. Cameron was loud, the spirit fingers that spawned unlimited memes rollicking (see picture), and Duke was hitting threes again.

But it felt different. This time, I never felt more than healthy nervousness. Even when Seth Curry drew a miraculous flopping foul on a 3-point shot (thank you for that little legacy, J.J. Reddick), even when Curry rose for a 3-pointer that would have cut the lead to single digits, blown the roof off of Cameron Hansbrough Indoor Stadium, I still barely twitched. Why?

A minute or two earlier, I had seen John Henson, resting on the bench, stand up and whip his towel to the ground. And yell. Unlike the bench against Duke the first time, where dispirited faces stared glumly at the scoreboard, the sideline was fired up. The message was clear: this was not happening again.

Understand, John Henson is not the fiery type. He’s the kind of player opponents hate because he’s obnoxiously friendly on the court. This is Henson’s M.O.: after dunking on someone (and he’s done that quite a bit this year), he’ll turn to his posterized opponent, smile, and say, “Did you see that? Wow! That was a crazy dunk!”*

*On a play like this one.

Then he’ll lope away, leaving behind one extremely pissed-off power forward.

So to see Unhappy John was unusual, to say the least. This Henson was straight up mad, and that’s what most Heel fans have been looking for out of their team this season – anger, some fire, some kind of edge. As I wrote on Friday, it often seems like this team doesn’t have the “it” factor – and I stand by that statement. But in this game, with a little extra motivation we saw a focused team destroy an inferior opponent. And yes, Duke is an inferior team, as was pointed out to me last week.

Carolina absorbed that 16-7 run – which numbers-wise seems less dramatic than it was – and Kendall Marshall hit a long jumper to quiet the crowd. Duke was officially toast. UNC had taken an opponent’s best punch – twice, if you count the run to open the 2nd half – and responded in kind. That’s killer instinct, and that’s what has been missing this entire season.

Can UNC bottle this lightning and use it in the tournament? It certainly seems that this team responds well after a loss and with some bulletin-board material – Marshall mentioned they used footage of The Shot as motivation. But whether this team has “flipped the switch” remains to be seen.

I stand by what I said on Friday, that this team has a missing ingredient. Yesterday I watched Anthony Davis and Kentucky wipe the floor with a good Florida team to go undefeated in the SEC, and I still can’t see anyone beating them. But maybe, just maybe, they found the last part of the recipe on Saturday night.

Later in the week, I’ll tell you why I wouldn’t terribly mind losing in the semifinals of the upcoming ACC Tournament. Stay tuned.

About Nate

I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2010. I've written about the UNC-Duke rivalry since my best friend from high school took his talents to Durham the same year I went to Carolina. Astoundingly, we remain friends in part due to a moratorium on talking around Duke-Carolina games. Though capable of rationally approaching the rivalry, I generally prefer low-intellect vitriol, because it makes me feel better about myself. Visit my blog at http://thebestmedicineis.wordpress.com
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