It was so quiet in North Carolina’s locker room after its 84-67 loss to Michigan, that you could hear a pen drop.
The Tar Heels’ players got dressed in silence — some with intense looks on their faces. While Michigan is talented, few expected this result in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. The Tar Heels after all, were the 11th-ranked in the country coming into Wednesday night’s game, and had the country’s third most efficient offense.
You can credit Michigan for how it played. The Wolverines, which have the country’s most efficient defense, made things tough for the Tar Heels. But the Tar Heels helped them out by playing their worst game of the season.
“I’m pissed off right now,” UNC senior guard Kenny Williams said. “Because the potential of this team could be so well, and we’re not coming close to playing up to that.”
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
If that’s how Kenny Williams felt, then UNC coach Roy Williams was livid. He told the media in his post game press conference that he had nothing positive to say about he or his team.
“Right now we stink,” coach Williams said.
He blamed himself for how his team played. UNC trailed 39-35 at halftime, and 3 1/2 minutes into the second half, Michigan had increased its lead to 12 points. Williams took all of his starters out and replaced them with reserves.
He did not put them back in until four minutes later, and by then, UNC was down by 19 points.
When asked why he made that move, Williams said, “it was because they stunk it up. Everyone stunk it up, and so did I.”
UNC’s leading scorer, Cam Johnson, who came into the game averaging 16.4 points per game as a graduate senior, finished with a season-low 5 points. The 6-9, 210-pound wing was 2-for-7 from the floor, and 1-for-4 from 3.
Senior forward Luke Maye, who scored seven points in the game’s first six minutes, finished with 11 points (4-for-12) and had 15 rebounds. Williams, the senior guard, also scored 11 points.
Freshman wing Nassir Little, who came off the bench, had four points in 17 minutes.
The Tar Heels need to improve, and improve quickly. Their schedule doesn’t get much easier. After its game against UNC-Wilmington on Dec. 5, No. 11 UNC will play No. 1 Gonzaga on Dec. 15 at home. After that game, UNC will play No. 10 Kentucky at a neutral site in Chicago.
“Nothing is astronomical about the situation,” Little said. “It’s about us having the want to and the desire. Not just wanting to, but actually doing it. Turning what we want to into actions.”
What went wrong
There were a number of things that went wrong Wednesday night. But its biggest mistakes are ones that have plagued them the entire season. It had a stronger affect on them this game, because the opponent was more talented.
The Tar Heels struggled defending Michigan’s pick-and-roll. Often times, there would be a wide open person rolling to the basket for an easy layup.
That began to open up the outside shot for Michigan too. The Wolverines shot 11-for-22 from behind the 3-point line.
They shot 57 percent from the floor overall, while the Tar Heels shot 39 percent. After the Las Vegas Invitational, UNC’s players said they needed to improve on two things in order to be successful.
One was to take care of the basketball, which UNC again did not. It had 13 assists to 10 turnovers, and Michigan scored 18 points off those turnovers. The other was to defend, which it also did not, as evidence by Michigan’s field goal percentage.
North Carolina got out to a 21-11 start in the game’s first 7 1/2 minutes. But it turned the ball over on two consecutive possessions, and Michigan took advantage. It made eight straight baskets, starting what would be a 17-2 run.
The Tar Heels re-took the lead, but lost it again in the final 50 seconds of the first half, when Michigan hit two 3-pointers, including one before the buzzer. On the possession prior to the second 3-pointer, UNC turned the ball over again.
In the second half, the Tar Heels never led. The Wolverines outplayed the Tar Heels, at one point extending its lead to 22 points. UNC managed to get the score to 11 points, but could not bring it closer.
Michigan was just too good.
No ‘let downs’
Freshman point guard Coby White, who led UNC in points for the third consecutive game with 12 points, said Wednesday’s night loss was a learning experience.
“You can’t have any let downs,” White said. “You’ve got to play 100 percent every possession.”
Coach Williams appeared frustrated throughout the game, and especially in the second half. There were times when he just sat on the bench, with his chin in his hand.
But he put the blame on himself for the loss. When asked how he turns it around, coach Williams said he did not know.
“I hope to, yes,” he said. “If I knew, I would have already fixed the damn thing.”