CHAPEL HILL — Duke spent so much of the first two months of the season trying to prove it could win without the 3-pointer, it has forgotten how to win with it.
And that's not a bad thing.
The Blue Devils stayed neck-and-neck with UNC in the first half because they hit five 3s (out of 11 attempts) but faded in the second half when the 3s stopped falling (3 of 10).
Kyle Singler, taking advantage of UNC's inability to guard him on the perimeter with a big man (either Tyler Hansbrough or Deon Thompson) hit four 3-pointers but like his teammates, was hot in the first half (3 of 5) but not in the second (1 of 5).
Telling of how far Duke has come this season, in terms of diversifying its offense, the Devils only lost by eight points. That wouldn't have happened last season when Duke was solely-dependent on the 3-ball.
Of course, with progress comes the growing pains. Duke beat UNC at the Smith Center last February when it was a just a 3-point shooting team. The Devils left Chapel Hill on Sunday on the wrong end of the scoreboard.
Still coach Mike Krzyzewski seemed encouraged by the effort. He knew they shot poorly in the second half but he also knows they played better than the last time they saw UNC, giving up 22 fewer points.
"We played well," Coach K said. "We didn't shoot well, but I thought we played well."
Actually, with just a little more production from Gerald Henderson, who was held to 14 points by Danny Green, Duke might have won on Sunday. Singler did his part with 23 points and Jon Scheyer was flawless with 24 points, five assists and zero turnovers.
Henderson, who has been carrying Duke for the better part of two months, finished 4-of-11 from the floor with 14 points and five turnovers.
"G can play better," Coach K said, quickly adding, "we're fine with G."
That's why the final score didn't crush K. He knows his team is better equipped for the posteason than the previous two editions, neither of which lasted through the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
With Henderson, Singler, Scheyer and Elliot Williams all able to take the ball to the basket, Duke's March fortunes won't be at the whim of the shooting gods.
That's a trade K will take.