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Tar Heels feel Lawson's absence hard in loss to Blue Devils

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Ty Lawson sat helplessly on the bench,
a black brace around his left ankle and his uniform underneath his
warm-up shirt.

A sprained ankle kept the North Carolina point guard out of one
of the biggest games of his career, and the No. 3 Tar Heels felt
his absence throughout an 89-78 loss to No. 2 Duke on Wednesday
night.

"Everybody in the country already knows how important [Lawson]
is," forward Deon Thompson said. "I don't think there's a better
point guard in the country than him, so you know how important he
is."

With former third-stringer Quentin Thomas replacing him in the
lineup, the Tar Heels (21-2, 6-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) simply
couldn't keep control of the tempo long enough to make a
difference.

"It's just a hurdle we need, as a team, to get over," Thomas
said. "It didn't happen tonight."

That's largely because they had serious trouble controlling the
tempo against the smaller, quicker Blue Devils who -- aware that
they stood no chance in anything resembling a low-post slugfest --
were determined to force the guards to decide this one.

"We should have [taken] more advantage of our size, but with me
in foul trouble, we just weren't able to," said the 6-foot-8
Thompson, who picked up his fourth foul with about 17 minutes left.

North Carolina couldn't stop Duke from 3-point range, allowing
the Blue Devils to hit 13 of 29 attempts from beyond the arc. Its
guards failed to generate much production of their own from the
perimeter, with sharpshooter Wayne Ellington 0-for-6 from 3 and
3-of-14 overall.

"It comes down to making shots, basically, on the offensive
end," said Marcus Ginyard, a swingman pressed into service as an
emergency point guard. "When you're getting great shots, you've
still got to put them in, and we had a lot of bad shots, and we had
some good shots that we just didn't put in."

And because of that, the Tar Heels couldn't complement forward
Tyler Hansbrough, who scored 28 points but took nearly one-third of
the team's 69 total shots.

"If your outside shots are falling, it definitely helps things
down low," Hansbrough said.

The threat of Lawson, a drive-and-dish distributor who averages
13.6 points and ranks third in the ACC in assists, surely would
have made things different.

"Their transition wasn't as fast because of him," Duke's
Gerald Henderson said. "He's a real jet."

Lawson took part in the pregame shootaround, but was ruled out
minutes before tipoff due to the injury he suffered three days
earlier at Florida State.

"It was really an easy decision -- I told him, 'If [you] had
doubts about it, then I was not going to play you,'" coach Roy
Williams said. "He came to me and he said, 'I don't know,' and
said he doesn't feel good. And I said, 'Well, then, we're not going
to play.'"

Thomas, his replacement making just his second start and first
since his first career game in 2004, had seven assists and six
turnovers, and repeatedly seemed to have trouble keeping up with
Duke's Greg Paulus.

"I definitely turned the ball over too much [and] on the
defensive end, I definitely feel I didn't play well," Thomas said.
"I felt like I could have done so much more than I did and didn't
do to help this team."

Paulus finished with 18 points, knocked down six 3-pointers and
delivered one of the game's lasting images.

Moments after Ginyard's 3-pointer pulled North Carolina within
six points at the 6-minute mark, Paulus drove hard toward the left
corner and swished a fallaway 3 of his own to push the lead to
74-65 and deflate the crowd.

Early on at least, Thomas and the other guards had difficulty
luring the Blue Devils into playing Hansbrough's favorite style of
basketball -- pounding the ball into their star big man in the post,
drawing contact and knocking down free throws.

Hansbrough couldn't get to the line in the first half, didn't
attempt his first free throw until 17:25 remained in the game and
finished just 4-of-9 from the stripe.