Following Sunday’s loss in Carmichael Arena to Wofford, there wasn’t much to say about where this Carolina was. For the first time since 2014, the Tar Heels dropped out of the AP Top 25 and in the first NET rankings of the season, a big factor in who makes the field of 68 slotted at 95th. Wednesday night’s trip to Spokane, WA to take on #2 Gonzaga wasn’t quite the easiest way to get things turnaround, as the Tar Heels dropped their fourth straight game, their most in a row since that dreaded 2009-10 season. However, while this loss dropped the Tar Heels to 6-5 on the season, there was some consistent fight from this team for the first time since returning from the Bahamas and saw some encouraging signs for a team that is searching for something encouraging with all of the injury and shooting troubles they’ve had.
Jeremiah Francis is the player that had people the most confident about the direction of this team going forward with his play on Wednesday night. The freshman point guard, who was playing in just his third game in more than two years, played 23 minutes, scoring 11 points on 4-9 shooting and dishing out three assists. Francis was as aggressive going to the basket as anyone on this Tar Heel team has been so far this, especially the guard. Without the ball in his hands, he was the most active of anyone on the floor, something the team desperately need with how poor the movement without the basketball has been this season. The best thing we saw from Francis on Wednesday, might have been his ability to push the ball up the floor and get this Tar Heel offense running the way it does when it’s at its best. All three of those things led to easy baskets for the Tar Heels, something they’ve been without for the bulk of the last three games and gave them a chance to hang around with a Gonzaga team that will likely be one of the favorites to take home the national championship when March rolls around.
Prior to his knee injury, Francis was a top 60 recruit in the 2019 class and he showed why on Wednesday night. This team still has a lot of things to work on, but, at least, Francis might he the spark this team needs to get rolling.
-Francis may have been the star of the night, but he wasn’t the only player who had nice night on the offensive end for the Tar Heels. Garrison Brooks led the team in scoring on the night, pouring in 16 points on 7-11 shooting, a very efficient night for the big man.
-We had been asking to get some production from the grad transfer and Christian Keeling did so on Wednesday. His 12 point was second on the team and he had his best shooting night of the season, going 5-7 from the field. Keeling looked as confident as he has all season, an encouraging sign for the Tar Heels as they turn towards conference play.
-Free throw woes continued on Wednesday night, as the Tar Heels shot just 12-17 from the free throw line. While it would not have been the difference in the ultimate outcome, the Tar Heels need more consistency if they are going to attack the basket like they did.
-Gonzaga had one of those nights where they simply did not miss. The Bulldogs shot 59.3% from the field overall and connected on nine of their 18 three point attempts. There were way too many open looks, as the Tar Heels struggled with defensive communication once again.
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