Heels take to road less (successfully) traveled
Besides talent, North Carolina coach Roy Williams said that winning on the road requires confidence, toughness, focus and poise.
Those qualities haven’t shown up enough this year for a young Tar Heels team that is 2-5 away from the Smith Center against major-conference teams entering tonight’s game at Boston College (9 p.m., ESPNU).
So far this season, UNC (13-6, 3-3 ACC) has fallen behind by 29 against Butler in the Maui Invitational, lost by a combined 42 points at Indiana and at Texas and was down by 28 Saturday at N.C. State.
“(The Wolfpack) kicked our tails every which way it can be kicked,” Williams said. “They were better in every phase of the game, more attentive, greater sense of urgency ... and we’ve got a short turnaround now and go back on the road and see if we can play better than we have this year so far outside our home place.”
Boston College (9-10, 1-5) has lost its only two ACC home games so far, but both were close games against tough opponents. The Eagles missed a potential tying free throw with a half-second left in a 60-59 loss to Miami and trailed N.C. State by a point with 19 seconds left before losing by five.
Entering the season, Williams had won two-thirds of his conference road games at UNC, tied with Duke’s Vic Bubas (1960-69) for the best career road winning percentage in ACC history. UNC has been at .500 or better on the road in 46 times in 59 previous ACC seasons, and seven times in nine seasons under Williams.
After a win at Florida State and losses at Virginia and in Raleigh, the Tar Heels are 1-2 on the road, and the next two trips after today are to Miami and Duke.
Williams said it takes a certain mindset to win road games. Players need the confidence to block out cheering crowds, the toughness to handle adversity when the opponent makes a run and the focus to stick with the game plan.
“So far, I haven’t done a very good job of getting this year’s club to handle that, and yet we are probably the youngest club I’ve ever coached or the least experienced that I’ve ever coached,” Williams said. “But we’re trying to do the same things with this group that we’ve done in the past, and hopefully it’ll take hold pretty soon.”
UNC played one senior, one junior, five sophomores and four freshmen against N.C. State. Williams used one play in particular as a teaching moment in that game, when sophomore P.J. Hairston was subbed out 39 seconds after making his first appearance in the second half. Hairston was replaced because as he reached down to get a ball, N.C. State’s T.J. Warren dove to the court to win possession.
“I just can’t stomach those kind of things,” Williams said. “I keep giving guys chances even when they do something like that, but there is no question that that’s the reason he sat out for a long time Saturday.”
Despite scoring a team-high 19 points, Hairston sat for the next 8½ minutes and was limited to just 17 minutes in the game.
Williams, who called the N.C. State game “extremely frustrating,” knows the Tar Heels must handle tough environments better in the future, because the hostile crowds aren’t about to go away.
“Everybody will be fired up when North Carolina comes,” Williams said. “That’s the way it is, and that’s the way I like it because if nobody is fired up when you come in there, that means they’ve been beating your rear end a lot, so I don’t like that scenario for sure.”
UNC-Kentucky series back on
After a one-year break, UNC announced Monday that it will resume its series with Kentucky for at least two more seasons. The teams will meet at the Smith Center on Dec. 14, 2013, and at Rupp Arena in Lexington during the 2014-15 season.
The teams had been played for 12 straight years before taking a hiatus in 2012. UNC leads the series 22-13.
“I think it’s a great series for both schools and our fans, as well as college basketball fans period,” Williams said in a statement. “North Carolina and Kentucky have great traditions, and regardless of who you pull for, fans mark this as a must-see game on the schedule.”