CRAWFORD | Louisville can't close the door late, falls at North - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Louisville can't close the door late, falls at North Carolina 72-71

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Chris Jones walks off the court after Louisville's 72-71 loss at North Carolina. AP photo. Chris Jones walks off the court after Louisville's 72-71 loss at North Carolina. AP photo.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WDRB) — The No. 5-ranked University of Louisville basketball team had a 13-point second half lead against North Carolina and a shot for a signature road win in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but the Cardinals couldn't close the door.

U of L missed eight of its final 10 shots, while North Carolina made six of its last nine, including a high-banking runner by Marcus Paige with nine seconds left to give the Tar Heels a 72-71 win before a delighted crowd of 21,750 at the Dean Smith Center.

There will be plenty of places to point when examining the final minutes. U of L appeared to hurry on offense when it didn't have to several times late. There was a rushed floater in the lane by Chris Jones with 1:58 left and a one-point lead. There was a quick three in transition by Wayne Blackshear with 54 seconds left, just seven seconds after the Cards had gotten a stop and a rebound with a one-point lead, then an offensive rebound of that miss by Mangok Mathiang, and a turnover.

VIDEO | Watch Rick Pitino's postgame news conference here

Pitino went back even earlier, a turnover against the UNC press with 5 1/2 minutes left when the Cards tried to force it inbounds to Jones, who was guarded by a 6-9 defender. That turnover helped UNC cut its deficit from seven to five.

“In my 13, 14 years in Louisville, that's about as tough a loss as we've had,” Pitino said after the game. “Our guys played great all night. They played a great basketball game, did a lot of really, really good things. It doesn't really come down to the end of the game, even though they made a very difficult shot, we had a wide open shot. That's what fans look at. But a key play esthete we didn't run our press offense, and we should have called a timeout and instead threw it to a 5-9 guy posting up at the foul line. Those types of things you can do something about. You can't do anything about the difficult shot he made, or the open shot you miss.”

Wayne Blackshear had a chance to win the game with an open three off the right wing. It bounced off, but Terry Rozier grabbed the rebound and got a bank shot off at the buzzer, but it didn't fall.

“I thought my shot was in,” Rozier said. “It looked in. You just play those in your head when they don't go, but that's how it is.”

Chris Jones, who pushed the ball up after Paige's make and found the wide-open Blackshear, said he'd do the same thing all over again.

“We got the shot we wanted,” Jones said. “Wayne was open. I thought that shot was going in. It didn't.”

Pitino said: “This is a game we'll remember a long time, but we can't let it give us a hangover, because we've got Virginia Tech coming up, and Duke. We let a golden opportunity slip away, and we're very disappointed in that, but we had them at about 38 percent (from the field) in the second half and they ended up shooting 52 percent. You've got to guard on the road and defend every, single possession down the stretch. We didn't do that, and it's a credit to their offense.”

CRAWFORD BLOG | Thoughts from the ride home after U of L's loss to UNC

The Cards had a shot to win on the final possession despite an off night from Montrezl Harrell, who finished with nine points and five rebounds and was, according to Pitino, not a factor for much of the game on defense.

Freshman center Chinanu Onuaku got the start, and turned in his best game as a Cardinal, finishing with 8 points, 8 rebounds, two blocks and two steals.

But the Cards were outscored 40-26 in the paint and 20-0 off the bench. They were outrebounded 40-30, and North Carolina had a 17-6 edge in second-chance points.

U of L made its big run to open the second half, scrapping its match-up zone for man-to-man defense, and forcing three North Carolina turnovers in the opening minutes that it converted to points. The Tar Heels, however, would turn it over only one more time in the game.

U of L led 63-50 after a Blackshear three with 8:53 to play, and still held a 10-point lead after a Blackshear jumper with seven minutes left. But the Cards would make only 2 out of 10 field goals from that point on — both jumpers by Blackshear.

Pitino was encouraged by the improved play of Onuaku, and of his guards. Other than the outcome, in fact, he seemed upbeat afterward.

“We're playing very good basketball,” Pitino said. “I'm excited, but we're hurting very much right now. It stings as much as any game I've coached. Our players are very hurt by it, but that's the ACC. There will be a lot of games like this. A lot of great teams in the ACC. We'll move on from here.”

Rozier finished with 25 points. Over his past eight games, he's averaging 21 per contest, and has become U of L's go-to player — though he was one-for-seven from three-point range on Saturday. He was the only U of L player to score in the final seven minutes of Saturday's game — two free throws and two field goals, including a pull-up baseline jumper with 26 seconds to play to put the Cards up 71-70.

Blackshear added 10, and had made 2 of 4 threes before missing his last one. Chris Jones had 19 points and carried the Cards offensively through the middle portion of the game. He and Rozier each had five assists.

But in the end, the Cardinals lost because they couldn't compete on the boards. North Carolina rebounded nearly as many of its own missed shots (17) as Louisville did (21).

The Tar Heels also got a balanced effort off the bench, 71 minutes versus 30 for the four subs Louisville used.

The big picture is that U of L's guards are developing into an even better-than-expected backcourt.

But in the end, the Cards may only be as good as their spare parts. Players like Shaqquan Aaron, Anas Mahmoud, Mangok Mathiang, Quentin Snider and even Jaylen Johnson are going to have to contribute something — not a lot, but something.

Split the Cards' past five games into quarters, and U of L is losing in only one of the — the fourth quarter, the last 10 minutes of games. In their past five games, U of L has been outscored 97-91 in that stretch. It's also the highest scoring stretch. The Cards have given up 64 points in the first quarters, 67 in the second and 74 in the third. To give up 97 in the final 10 minutes of those five games says that fatigue is coming into play.

“We were playing good defense,” Pitino said of his team's run early in the second half. “We stopped them from getting into transition. They didn't get in transition the whole game and we did a good job of getting three people back. We can't play any better than that. We didn't execute our press offense on that one possession, but I have no beefs with the effort. We just need to do a better job containing the ball because we got caught rotating and helping out because our veterans got caught on the ball.”

North Carolina coach Roy Williams, whose team lost a one-pointer to Notre Dame earlier in the week when a layup by Paige didn't fall, said, “Everything looks better when the ball goes in the basket. . . . We were very fortunate. Louisville is a great club with a great coach. They jumped on us in the second half. Rick's halftime talk was a lot better than mine. . . . It would've been a killer if their shot had gone in. There's no question about that. It would've broken our hearts, but you always have a chance to bounce back, too. It was a great, great afternoon for about four seconds there at the end.”

And for Louisville, it was four seconds their coaches and players will be thinking about for a long while.

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