LAS VEGAS — Roy Williams said on Friday night that his team would lose against UNLV in the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational if the Tar Heels played on Saturday like they did on Friday in a somewhat sloppy 25-point victory against South Carolina.
Williams was right. Top-ranked UNC wasn’t better on Saturday night. In fact, it played worse. UNLV took advantage in a 90-80 victory.
A look back at the Tar Heels’ first defeat of the season:
Why the Tar Heels lost: You can find some of the reasons why Carolina lost on the final stat sheet. There were the 13 3-pointers that UNLV made – many of them seeming to come during clutch moments in the second half. There was the disparity in second-chance points – 20-6 in favor of the Rebels. And there were problems with rebounding, which led to those second-chance points for UNLV. The Rebels outrebounded UNC 48-39. But the numbers only tell part of the story. UNLV seemed to want it more, seemed to play with an intangible edge that UNC just didn’t – or couldn’t – match. The Rebels played with energy and the kind of feistiness that a team needs to knock off the top-ranked team in the country. UNLV had that tonight and the Tar Heels didn’t.
The good: UNLV knocked UNC back in the first half and led 17-9 at one point. But the Tar Heels responded, and seemed to take control of the game in the later part of the first half. After falling behind by 8, UNC outscored UNLV by 14 during one stretch when the Heels built a 6-point lead. They led 42-38 at halftime. More good: Carolina again received a nice contribution from freshman P.J. Hairston, who finished with 15 points and made three 3’s. Dexter Strickland also was productive, with 12 points.
The bad: The Heels didn’t match UNLV’s intensity, and that manifested itself in the Rebels’ rebounding advantage and in paint, where UNC failed to assert itself. The Tar Heels outscored UNLV 28-22 in the paint, but UNC’s big three – Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes – were 11-of-34 from the field. The woes down low help explain why UNC never responded from the 14-0 that UNLV used to start the second half. During that run, UNC’s four-point halftime lead turned into a 10-point deficit. The Heels cut it to four at one point, but came no closer.
Key moment: UNLV’s 14-0 to start the second half was it. That came in the first 4:11 of second half and it seemed to stun the Tar Heels. During that stretch UNC missed five lay-ups.
Key stat: You read it earlier. UNC’s big three of Barnes, Henson and Zeller combined to make 11 of their 34 shots from the field. The Tar Heels can win games when one of these guys struggles, even when two of them are off. But all three? Zeller was in foul trouble throughout the game and he made just one shot. Henson struggled against an aggressive Rebels defense and Barnes couldn’t going from inside or out.
Key stat II: UNLV shot 40.6 percent from 3-point range – not a great percentage but it was good enough given the number of 3’s the Rebels took. They made 13 of their 32 3-point attempts and UNC coach Roy Williams said afterward that he wasn’t expecting UNLV to shoot so much from the outside.
UNC player of the game: Hairston. He helped the Tar Heels rally during the first half, after they were down 17-9, and he helped UNC stay within striking distance during the second half. In two games in Las Vegas, Hairston scored 34 points and made seven 3’s.
Quotable: “Needless to say we’re extremely disappointed … We never could get our focus going offensively the entire game. [Zeller] was out of it a little bit early. We weren’t doing things the way we wanted. Late-game situation – it’s my fault we haven’t practiced that enough. I’ve got to do a better job of practicing so they know what to do out there.” –UNC coach Roy Williams on his team’s defeat.