North Carolina has a problem defending the 3-point line.
This is not breaking news to UNC coach Roy Williams or to Carolina fans.
There are more people in Chapel Hill who remember Harold “The Show” Arceneaux’s name from the 1999 NCAA tournament than there are in Ogden, Utah.
Williams understands the 3-point defense is a problem for the Tar Heels (16-7, 5-5 ACC), who have lost three straight ACC games for the first time since 2014.
He has talked to his team about it, he has talked with the media about it and he has worked on it in practice over and over again. Yet, the Tar Heels can’t quite figure out how to fix it in a game.
The 19th-ranked Tar Heels gave up 15 more 3-pointers in a 82-78 road loss at No. 20 Clemson on Tuesday night.
“Yeah, I’ve got no answers, guys,” Williams said. “I’ve never emphasized something as much in my entire life.”
And for good reason. UNC ranks No. 318, out of 351 teams, in 3-point field goal defense. The Tar Heels have allowed opponents to shoot 38.5 percent (240 of 624) from the 3-point line.
‘We did our best’
In ACC games, it’s even worse. In 10 ACC games, UNC’s opponents have made 39.8 percent (110 of 276) of their 3s.
Six times this season an ACC team has made at least 15 3s in a game, two have been against UNC. Clemson was the second straight ACC team to go 15 of 30 against the Heels.
The Tigers had seven different players make a 3 and three make at least three. It’s the most 3-pointers Clemson has made this season and the most in any game in coach Brad Brownell’s eight seasons.
Guard Marcquise Reed hit the biggest 3 in Tuesday’s game for Clemson. After UNC had fought back from a 16-point deficit to tie the game at 74, Reed got open in front of Clemson’s bench with 1:41 left and buried the shot.
UNC guard Kenny Williams, who was defending Reed, got screened on the play by Clemson forward Elijah Thomas. That’s going to happen in basketball. Some of Clemson’s 3s were either really deep beyond the line, contested or both.
“It’s just hard to say what else can you do if they’re hitting deep shots, three feet behind the 3-point line,” UNC guard Joel Berry said.
“We did our best to try to close out and that’s something we have to work on each and every practice.”
The 3-point line
But UNC’s biggest problem in defending the 3-point line this season has been when it helps to stop dribble penetration.
UNC’s initial on-ball defense isn’t good enough to stop the drive so another defender helps and that leaves a shooter open.
In previous seasons, UNC would have a rim protector in the lane and the wings would not have to slough off to help. When reserve forward Sterling Manley is not on the floor, the Heels don’t have that.
Clemson got a few clean looks because the UNC defense left to help. The Tigers racked up a 10-for-19 performance from the 3-point line in the first half.
That was the main problem against N.C. State in Saturday’s loss, too. The Wolfpack had entered the game making just 30 percent (51 of 170) of its 3s in ACC play but had a “get right” against UNC’s defense.
That’s also a pattern.
“There is more that we can do, obviously,” guard Cam Johnson said. “It’s not like they shoot like that against every team.
“The only explanation that I can possibly offer for why it has happened in multiple games is it’s something we’re not doing right.”
Finding the problem
Johnson, who had a career-high 32 points, said the problems are not due to a lack of practice preparation.
“We spend a lot of time (in practice), especially the last couple of days,” Johnson said. “Everything has been defense. There’s probably been one offensive drill.”
While Johnson said he couldn’t pinpoint UNC’s problem he did have a theory.
“Maybe it’s a just matter that we give them a couple of easy ones (early) and then they feel it,” Johnson said.
To Johnson’s point, Clemson started 8 of 13 from the 3-point line on Tuesday. N.C. State was 6 of 11 in the first half on Saturday.
UNC was better in the second half defending the 3-point line. Clemson was 5 of 11 (45.5 percent) after the scorching start.
Still, Williams was left shaking his head and frustrated. So are the players. They know ultimately what it comes down to, Johnson said.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to us on the court and how bad we want it,” Johnson said.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio