CHAPEL HILL - Not even having Tyler Hansbrough in the building could help North Carolina upset Duke.
While Hansbrough, who had his jersey retired at halftime, and his teammates took six of the last seven from the Blue Devils, this Carolina team collapsed late and continued its ACC free fall with a 64-54 loss.
"I felt very confident coming into this game," senior guard Marcus Ginyard said. "But we didn't sustain that focus and that intensity for the whole game."
With some chalking the rest of UNC's season up as lost cause, the Heels needed to find inspiration wherever they could, and that was in this rivalry.
For three-quarters of the game, that looked like it might be enough for Carolina (13-11, 2-7 in the ACC) to overcome the eighth-ranked Blue Devils (20-4, 8-2).
"I think that's the expectation from a game like this, a rivalry game, and the position we have put ourselves in," senior forward Deon Thompson said.
But after getting their transition game going a bit and taking a 43-39 lead with less than 12 minutes to play, the Heels became stagnant offensively.
Carolina, which has now lost four straight games and seven of its last eight, managed just 11 points in the game's final 11:52.
"I can't really put my finger on it, but I'd say we weren't attacking enough," point guard Larry Drew II said. "Basketball is a game of runs, and it seemed like the whole game we were right there. When we went up, I thought we were going to be able to carry over after that."
While the Tar Heels struggled to find playmakers in the late stages of the game, the Blue Devils went right to Jon Scheyer, who finished with 24 points. He shot just 7 for 20, but his biggest hits were well-timed.
One of his five 3-pointers in the game came right after a three from Will Graves-who led the Heels with 13 points-cut the Duke lead to one with six minutes to go.
His next was a dagger with 2:33 remaining that made it 59-50 and ended the Tar Heels' hopes of an upset.
"That kind of sunk us," freshman John Henson said.
The game was perhaps the biggest missed opportunity for the Tar Heels this season, considering the momentum they could have picked up from a win.
Duke certainly gave them a window to steal the game.
The Blue Devils shot an uncharacteristic 31.9 percent from the field-including a 22.5-percent clip in the first half-but were able to get plenty of second chances by getting their hands on 23 offensive rebounds.
While wing players Graves and Ginyard had eight rebounds apiece, Thompson and Ed Davis combined for just nine.
"Myself and Ed could have done a better job, but long shots, long rebounds, and the ball kind of bounced their way," Thompson said.
For a while, it looked like perhaps the Tar Heels were getting a bit of good mojo from having Hansbrough on hand to witness the retiring of his No. 50 jersey.
"It was a great thrill for me to coach this young man," UNC coach Roy Williams told the crowd before heading to the locker room for halftime. "It's a thrill for me to look up there and see him on the front row of the rafters. Roy Williams was a better coach because of this young man."
Hansbrough, who always said he wouldn't evaluate his college career until it was over, said he still found the idea of earning the honor "mind-boggling."
"When I walk in the gym and see my 50 up there, yeah, it kind of sinks in," Hansbrough said. "It's quite an honor."
For the current Tar Heels, though, having the program's all-time leading scorer in the house didn't help them figure out how to score when they absolutely needed to.
Just like getting up for this rivalry game and playing well for most of it didn't change the fact that it ended in defeat.
"I try to look on the bright side as often as I can," Drew said. "We played harder than we've been playing. But a loss is a loss no matter how you look at it."