Originally posted on Fox Sports Carolinas  |  Last updated 2/9/12
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- So where does North Carolina go from here? It may take the Tar Heels until lining up to face nationally-ranked Virginia on Saturday at the Dean Smith Center before they shake most of Wednesday's shocking 85-84 home loss to Duke at the buzzer. The pain that probably caused a lot of sleepless nights along Tobacco Road must resonate within the players 10-fold. They had Duke on the ropes but once again couldn't find that next gear to put away the Blue Devils. While Duke deserves big-time credit for sticking around and then making plays in the final few minutes to snatch the victory, this game was more about UNC's on-going struggle with finding that next level, which is a championship level UNC fans and observers in this region can identify. They know what hoops champions look, feel, smell and taste like. UNC coach Roy Williams, however, wasn't interested in getting too deep into what ailed his club Wednesday night. "It's not just about us," the hall of Fame coach said. "North Carolina's not the only team that decided the outcome of the game. We tried to play, we tried to make plays, didn't make them as successfully as we wanted to make. But it's not just about North Carolina." But it was about Carolina (20-4, 7-2 ACC), just like this entire season has been about the Tar Heels. They were the ones who were almost unanimously ranked No. 1 to start the season. They have the roster loaded with NBA talent, a coach with two national title rings, and they play in a culture that demands greatness. They are also the team that suffered an early-season loss to UNLV that shook up the college hoops world and then were blown out by 33 points at Florida State in January. That caused every pundit in the land to cut open the Heels and expose every conceivable weakness, even if it meant manufacturing stuff about the team that wasn't entirely the case. And now they are the team that 24 games into the season hasn't yet put on a complete national title-worthy performance. Carolina has been spectacular at times and breathtaking for stretches, and came close to reaching that level in a win at Maryland last weekend, but the Tar Heels haven't yet taken a game to that extra, special gear that the 2005 and 2009 teams knew all too well. It began with the season opener versus Michigan State on an aircraft carrier outside of San Diego. UNC seemingly had the Spartans on the ropes, but never pulled away. The same thing happened versus Long Beach State, Texas, Miami, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Wednesday versus Duke. "We know how we can play," said UNC junior forward John Henson. "We just have to finish it, finish games off." Now, pulling away from Duke is a tall order, but given the circumstances entering the contest Duke was ripe for a whooping. The Blue Devils were coming off a home loss to Miami and hadn't played all that well over the previous month aside from wins at Virginia Tech and Maryland. While they played with passion and confidence for most of the first half, the Devils' body language as UNC built a 57-44 second-half lead suggested they were nearing the ropes. All Carolina had to do was deliver a knockout blow to raise its game to another gear and none of the drama that marked the memorable finish would have ever taken place. That's where Carolina must go from here. The Tar Heels need to learn how to kick it up a notch. Williams believes the only positive that can come from the defeat is to essentially do just that. "The only good you can take from this is to be more determined," he said. "You ought to be ticked off, you ought to be flat out ticked off, and that's the best language I can use. That you're going to be more determined, if you start wallowing and feeling fricken sorry for yourself you ought to just go home. "My team better by God come back and decide they're going to be better. We lost a game that we could have won. If we don't learn something today and come back and be more determined then I got the wrong group, and I don't think I have the wrong group."
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