CHAPEL HILL – Roy Williams has seen just about everything college basketball can offer, but until Saturday, he had never seen his team lose on Senior Night.
In 10 years as a North Carolina assistant, 15 years as Kansas’ head coach and 10 years as North Carolina’s head coach, not a single one of his teams had lost its final home game until the Tar Heels lost to Duke, 69-53, on Saturday.
So Williams did something odd, especially to a team that shot 27 percent in the first half and made one of its 14 3-point attempts: He said he was sorry.
“He apologized,” said North Carolina senior guard Dexter Strickland. “We could have done better, but you can’t blame it on him. You can blame it on all of us as a team.”
Duke ran up a 20-point lead in the first half as Blue Devils guard Seth Curry put on a show.
Curry made his first seven shots. He made a perfect turnaround jumpshot, a pair of 3-pointers and even a can-you-believe-that shot as he fell to his backside.
“He just toyed with us,” Williams said. “He was in complete control on the offensive end.”
Duke forward Mason Plumlee scored 15 points and added eight rebounds in the second half as North Carolina (22-9, 12-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) never came within 14 points of the lead in the second half.
Though there was a postgame ceremony honoring North Carolina’s seniors, Strickland and seldom-used forward Frank Tanner, most of the pro-UNC fans left the Dean Smith Center before the final buzzer.
Some even began to file out as early as the 12-minute mark of the second half, and the final minute of the game was played to near silence as Duke ran out the clock.
“I’m a little disappointed in those that left,” Williams said. “I thought they would have stayed and listened to our seniors. You can’t really complain about those people, but I am really pleased with the students that did stay.
“It was tough. It’s not easy to sit there after someone kicks you in the rear end like that.”
Many pointed to the early stages of the game as the reason North Carolina ultimately lost. Duke scored the first 14 points of the game and led by double digits for the rest of the way.
Williams started Tanner in place of freshman point guard Marcus Paige. In Tanner’s 1 minute and 41 seconds on the floor to open the game, the Blue Devils made all three of their field goals and North Carolina did not score.
Tanner did not record a statistic, though he did cave on defense, allowing his man, Duke guard Tyler Thornton, to hit a 3-pointer.
Though Saturday was frustrating for North Carolina, Williams defended Tanner and his Senior Night practices.
“I’d do it 9,000 times out of 9,000,” Williams said. “(North) Carolina basketball’s more important than the first two minutes of a game. Frank did get sucked in one time and helped, when Tyler made the 3, but (former guard) Raymond Felton did that one time, too.
“To the day they fire me or the day they put me in the grave, I’m going to start those seniors on Senior Day. And the record’s pretty good.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com.