Short tourney runs don't mean disaster for Williams' teams
Roy Williams has been to seven Final Fours at North Carolina and Kansas and only once did he win a conference tournament beforehand.
His 2005 and 2009 national championships at UNC both came after semifinal losses in the ACC Tournament.
So Friday’s 80-75 loss to Pittsburgh in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals doesn’t necessarily mean the Tar Heels will have a short run when the NCAAs start next week But there are still plenty of areas UNC needs to work on.
The Panthers raced out to a 25-8 lead and led by 20 with 7:13 remaining before holding on late.
The Tar Heels forced seven turnovers with a full-court press and guard Marcus Paige made four 3-pointers during UNC’s furious comeback. But it wasn’t enough to overcome Pittsburgh’s 43-35 edge in rebounding, a slow start offensively when UNC make just 3 of its first 19 shots, and too many slip-ups on defense that allowed the Panthers to shoot 52 percent from the floor.
“Just a lot of careless turnovers, not enough energy on both ends of the floor,” sophomore J.P. Tokoto said. “That’s really what it came down to. That’s how we were playing at the beginning of the season.”
The defensive effort was especially troubling for the Tar Heels, who have used their intensity and focus on that end to win 12 games in a row heading into the regular-season finale against Duke. UNC then allowed a season-high 93 points against the Blue Devils.
“We didn’t do the little things like getting the key box out or just getting over in help position or stuff like that,” sophomore Brice Johnson said. “The little things we didn’t do so they kept scoring.”
The rebounding issue — UNC had just 20 total rebounds at Duke, its lowest total in 27 years, and allowed Pittsburgh senior Talib Zanna to grab 21 by himself on Friday — partly stem from UNC’s inability to get consistent play at the center position.
Starting center Kennedy Meeks was sick and played just 12 minutes against Duke. He said he was fully recovered by the Pittsburgh game, but he played just eight minutes against the Panthers.
Williams turned to defensive specialists Desmond Hubert and Joel James, but that leaves a void on offense. Johnson is by far the best scoring option — he was 8 of 9 for 16 points on Friday — but is a defensive liability.
“I didn’t think we were going to get as much out of Kennedy as we could have gotten,” Williams said. “I had Joel and Desmond in there. Brice did some really good things. He’s got to get better defensively. Same thing with Kennedy. Kennedy has had some unbelievably good games for us. At the same time he’s had some games where he hasn’t played as well.”
UNC also must deal with the wear and tear on 175-pound point guard Marcus Paige, who is averaging 35.6 minutes — more than any other Tar Heel in the Williams era.
Paige had tape on his sore left thumb that he said was a preventive measure. The sophomore was also kneed in the thigh early in the second half against Pittsburgh, although he came back and scored 20 points in the final 11:28 to key UNC’s comeback.
That final surge — the Tar Heels cut the 20-point deficit to three with 12 seconds left — may help build UNC’s confidence heading into the NCAA Tournament. But the Tar Heels, who are entering the event with back-to-back losses for the first time since 2004, may not want to rely on desperation to provide the necessary energy going forward.
“I think we can learn from the things we did well in that last eight-minute stretch,” Paige said. “We played really well. We forced a lot of turnovers and we were able to make things happen with our traps, which will be helpful next week. At the same time we also have to learn that getting down 17 early against good teams, we’re only going to play good teams from here on out. That can’t happen and it’s going to be too big of a hole to dig out of.”
FRIDAY'S ACC TOURNAMENT QUARTERFINAL
|PITTSBURGH 80, No. 15 NORTH CAROLINA 75|
Percentages: FG .519, FT .512.
3-Point Goals: 5-13, .385 (Patterson 3-8, Robinson 1-1, Artis 1-2, Young 0-2).
Team Rebounds: 3.
Blocked Shots: 2 (Young, Zanna).
Turnovers: 15 (Patterson 6, Newkirk 2, Robinson 2, Zanna 2, Wright 2, Artis).
Steals: 7 (Robinson 4, Wright 2, Zanna).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .410, FT .656.
3-Point Goals: 4-16, .250 (Paige 4-12, McDonald 0-1, McAdoo 0-1, Tokoto 0-2).
Team Rebounds: 1.
Blocked Shots: 2 (Johnson, Hubert).
Turnovers: 12 (McDonald 3, Britt 3, Paige 2, Meeks, Tokoto, McAdoo, James).
Steals: 5 (Britt 3, Johnson, Tokoto).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials_Karl Hess, Raymond Styons, Brian Dorsey.