So much for entering the Christmas break in good spirits, a disappointing loss at NC State last night, all but erased the holiday joy for the Tar Heels, and this writer. It’s just the fifth time Roy Williams has lost to the Wolfpack, and this may have been the most frustrating defeat. Carolina once again started slow, digging themselves yet another double digit deficit. State led by as much as 17, before a 13-3 run to end the half, made it a respectable 49-42 halftime margin. In the second half Carolina battled but never once took the lead, before a late 14-2 run by State effectively put the game away. Carolina had two good looks from behind the arc to tie the game, and missed them both, losing 79-76.
In the games Carolina has lost this season, there’s been a formula to those losses, which consists of turnovers, slow starts, and inconsistent play on the offensive end. Last night Carolina turned it over 18 times, was down big early, but it was the defense that lacked in the early going. The 49 first half points are the most allied this season, as they simply let State get to the rim, or have open looks from 3. As they have all season long, they battled back, showing resilience not usually seen in young teams, but we’re not here for moral victories. Carolina needs to start playing better, both collectively and individually.
Back Court Play: The Tar Heels desperately needs Anthony Harris to return from injury sooner than later. Caleb Love and R.J. Davis combined for 22 points, but on just 8-28 shooting. They combined to shoot 1-8 from behind the three point line, as the team overall shot only 17% from deep. Last night they looked overmatched against the guards from State, which is troublesome as they’ll see much better guards later in the season. This is mainly about Love, as 8 games into his Tar Heel career it’s clear he’s still trying to figure it out. He needs to work extensively on his decision making, both as a passer, and with his shot selection. Carolina will play better, when Love plays better.
Bullied the Paint: Carolina outscored the Pack, 52-36 in the painted area, which makes you wonder why they shot the 13 three pointers that they did. They also out-rebounded State 45-34, as that’s what got them back into the game. Despite Garrison Brooks having a subpar season this far, the Tar Heels front court is still the most dominant in the ACC, and probably the country. As the back court play is still a work in progress, they need to be more committed to playing through their bigs to find more success.
Bench Out Played: As hard as it is, you have to give the Pack credit for how their bench played, and how they played as a whole. State’s reserves out scored Carolina’s reserves 29-22, as they received big contributions from Shakeel Moore who scored 17 points off the pine. All 5 reserves for Carolina all scored the basketball, but they couldn’t overcome Moore’s big night.
Fast Break Offense: A positive in the loss was that Carolina got easy points in the open floor, scoring 19 fast break points. State’s pressure sped the game up, and while Love and Davis weren't ready for the level of pressure, when they broke it they got good results. Carolina also did a much better job converting turnovers into buckets the other way.
Finishing: Carolina held State without a field goal for the final 5:13, yet couldn’t find a way to complete the comeback. That’s because Carolina went the final 2:45 without a field goal in their own right. It was just the final minutes of the game where Carolina struggled to finish, as they failed to convert around the rim despite the size advantage. We know this is a young team that is still learning how to win, once they become more consistent finishing consistently, they’ll become a better basketball team.