UNC looks to regroup after scoring drought
When North Carolina went to a smaller starting lineup, the Tar Heels weren’t putting in their top five rebounders or their top five defenders – they were going with their top five scorers.
Through seven games, the Tar Heels scored enough to make up for deficiencies caused by being undersized, and they won six straight games to clinch a No. 3 seed in the ACC Tournament. But the points stopped coming at the worst possible time – senior night against Duke – and a national audience witnessed the embarrassing results.
UNC’s four regular starting perimeter players – Marcus Paige, Dexter Strickland, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston – shot just 1 of 16 in the first half en route to a 69-53 loss at the Smith Center. It had been 65 years since the Tar Heels scored fewer points at home against Duke.
Forward James Michael McAdoo’s nine first-half points weren’t nearly enough as Duke led by 18 at the break and never trailed by less than 14 in the second half.
“I felt like every shot we took we were hesitant or tight,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “You can make up whatever it is, but I didn’t like the way we looked every shot we took.”
UNC (22-9) shot just 27.3 percent in the game, including a season-low 7.1 percent (1 of 14) from behind the arc.
The Blue Devils had no such problems, shooting 69.2 percent in the first half and 55.1 percent for the game – the first time in 21 games that Duke made more than half its shots against UNC under Williams.
“One of the characteristics of this team the last three weeks was that we made shots,” Williams said. “Duke’s defense was stronger than our offense was and Duke’s offense was stronger than our defense was. We just have to congratulate them.”
Going in, UNC was shooting 44.9 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from behind the arc since taking a traditional center out of the starting lineup seven games ago.
UNC did force 15 turnovers, but wasn’t able to convert them into transition baskets – neither team had a fast-break point Saturday night. That forced the Tar Heels into a half-court offense, and not much worked other than putbacks off of 18 offensive rebounds and McAdoo’s mid-range jumpers.
For now, it remains to be seen if UNC’s poor long-range shooting was just a one-game anomaly or a serious cause for concern. The Tar Heels don’t play again until an ACC Tournament quarterfinal Friday at 9:30 p.m., when it faces the winner of Thursday night’s first-round game between No. 6 Florida State and No. 11 Clemson.
“I feel like we’re going to come out more hungry,” Bullock said. “The end of the season is coming, so this will add fuel to the fire for us to come out with more motivation and more of a sense of urgency and be able to get it done.”
SENIOR NIGHT LOSS
Roy Williams had never lost on senior night in 25 years as a head coach at Kansas and UNC and as an assistant under Dean Smith. So this was the first time he had to deal with fans leaving in droves before the seniors could be honored in the post-game ceremony.
“I was really proud of our students and fans that stayed around till the end. I’m a little disappointed in those that left,” Williams said. “I thought that they would have stayed around and listened to our seniors. You can’t really complain about those people, but I am really pleased with those students that did stay. It was tough. I know it’s not easy to sit there after someone kicks you in the rear end like that.”
Strickland, the only scholarship senior on the roster, was a three-year starter who leads the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio. He said he didn’t feel disrespected by fans leaving early.
“I don’t pay attention to that,” Strickland said. “Certain fans, if you’re doing good they praise you if you’re doing bad you suck. So I don’t get into the fans and stuff like that. It’s the least of my worries.”