CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -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 him out of one of the biggest games of his career, and No. 3 North Carolina felt his absence throughout an 89-78 loss to No. 2 Duke on Wednesday night.
Without their star point guard, the Tar Heels (21-2, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) simply couldn't keep control of the tempo long enough to make a difference.
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.
h production of their own from the perimeter, with sharpshooter Wayne Ellington 0-for-6 from 3 and 3-of-14 overall.
And because of that, the Tar Heels had trouble finding a complement for star forward Tyler Hansbrough, who scored 28 points but took nearly one-third of the team's 69 total shots.
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. He 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.
His replacement - Quentin Thomas, in 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 and Nolan Smith.
Paulus finished with 18 points, knocked down six 3-pointers and delivered one of the game's lasting images.
Moments after Marcus 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 energized Dean Smith Center crowd.
Early on at least, Thomas and the other guards had difficulty luring the Blue Devils into playing Hansbrough's favorite style of basketball - namely, 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.
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