CHAPEL HILL – When Ty Lawson came out of the tunnel for pre-game warm-ups, the Smith Center crowd started chanting his name.
But those same fans ended up disappointed when North Carolina's starting point guard didn't play and the third-ranked Tar Heels lost to No. 2 Duke 89-78.
After the game, UNC coach Roy Williams wasn't about to blame his team's defeat on missing Lawson.
"The team that did most of the little things well won the game tonight," Williams said. "I've got to find some way to get my team to do the little things that's the difference between winning and losing.
Tyler Hansbrough finished with 28 points and 18 rebounds, but he was just about all the Tar Heels (21-2, 6-2 in the ACC) had going on offense.
Whether or not they could pin the troubles on Lawson's absence, there was no question that Carolina's offense was off kilter.
Even shots that looked like they were in the basket – including a 3-point attempt from Wayne Ellington that would have cut Duke's lead to five with under three minutes to go – somehow found their way back out and into the Blue Devils' hands.
Though Marcus Ginyard finished with 16 points thanks to an 8-for-8 performance at the free-throw line, he and Ellington combined to shoot 6 for 24 in the game.
"The ball just wasn't staying in the basket," said Deon Thompson, who had 12 points before fouling out.
But as bad as the offense was – including a 33.3-percent shooting clip in the second half – the defense was equally disappointing.
Duke's offense is predicated on penetrating to the basket and kicking out for open shots once the help comes into the lane.
North Carolina knew that coming in.
"We didn't stick to our game plan," Danny Green said.
They let the Blue Devils (20-1, 8-0 in the ACC) drive, and sure enough, there were plenty of open shots to be had.
Six Duke players finished in double figures, led by Greg Paulus' 18 points. All of the point guard's scoring came from beyond the 3-point line, where he shot 6 for 8.
The Blue Devils hit 13 threes in all, hitting at a nearly 45-percent rate.
"We did a poor job of defending the ball," Ginyard said. "Obviously, they're a great shooting team, so the lack of ability to guard the ball really hurt us."
The Blue Devils snapped a three-game UNC winning streak in the series and took firm control of a league race the media predicted the Tar Heels to win in the preseason.
Lawson, who sprained his ankle in the opening minutes against Florida State, shot around with his teammates during pre-game warm-ups and was suited up for the game but did not play.
That left the offense in the hands of senior Quentin Thomas, who had eight assists and one turnover combined in 29 minutes over the last two years against the Blue Devils, and Ginyard.
There were times when it was obvious the Tar Heels missed Lawson, as Thomas and Ginyard stumbled, both literally and figuratively, against the Duke defense, which forced 20 turnovers.
"I definitely didn't play well at all," Thomas said. "I'm extremely upset with myself."
The Tar Heels had great success going inside in the opening minutes and built a lead as Hansbrough and Thompson scored 16 of the team's first 18 points.
Hansbrough had 18 at the half, and he and Thompson combined to shoot 13 of 18 in the period. But the rest of the Tar Heels were just 3 for 15 in the first 20 minutes, and Duke had a 42-39 lead at the half.
"The dumb thing was, 12 of those dadgum shots were dumb shots," Williams said.
While the Tar Heels didn't blame anything on missing Lawson, it was clear it had some effect. And now the Tar Heels find themselves unable to control their own destiny in the league race until the Blue Devils lose a game.
"We're frustrated with the loss," Thomas said, "but we also have to realize (Duke) is a great team."