It’s amazing how things change. Last year around this time I was in a packed Dean Dome watching the Blue Devils mount an incredible overtime comeback against a 10-12 (3-9 in conference) Tar Heel team struggling to find their footing. That day, Wendell Moore capped off Tre Jones’ heroics with a game-winning tip in. It was the best moment of his young basketball career. The highlight played nationally for several days. Moore had etched himself in Duke/Carolina lore.
363 days later, instead of sitting court-side flanked by Cameron Crazies covering the best rivalry in college sports, I watched the game from my couch. And instead of being heaped with the praise that comes with a game-winning bucket in a win over North Carolina, Wendell Moore faced the wrath of Blue Devil nation after turning the ball over in the closing seconds of a 91-87 loss.
Yes, Moore should’ve gone up stronger and taken the shot after beating the Tar Heel defense and getting all the way to the basket down two points with 11.2 seconds remaining. That’s a lesson I’m sure he’s learned. But the Duke sophomore isn’t why Duke fell to UNC.
With 5:25 remaining and the Blue Devils trailing by five, Moore hit a 3-point basket to make it a 2 point game. At the 1:47 mark, right after Caleb Love hit a 3-point bucket that put the Heels up seven, Wendell Moore made a layup assisted by Jeremy Roach. With 47 seconds remaining, Moore secured an offensive rebound and subsequent layup – cutting the UNC lead to three with 46 seconds remaining. For the 30 minutes Wendell was on the court he was a stabilizing presence for the Blue Devils – shooting 6-9 from the floor, 2-3 from the free throw line, grabbing five rebounds, dishing out four assists and securing one steal. All of that and only two turnovers. Moore did it all.
It’s natural to want to blame a loss like this on one play, especially when it comes in the final seconds of the game, but there were several factors that contributed to the Duke loss. When your leading scorer has zero first half points and fouls out with seven total points just as he gets going offensively, it hurts. When you turn the ball over 15 times, it hurts. When you allow your opponent to score 27 fast break points and shoot 67% from three, it hurts.
If we’re being honest, the game shouldn’t have been as close as it was and without Moore’s contribution on the offensive and defensive side of the ball Duke would’ve suffered an embarrassing loss. So, ease up on Wendell. He’s not the reason why Duke lost to North Carolina, he’s the reason why the Blue Devils were in the game at the end.