North Carolina beat ECU on Saturday but the Tar Heels didn't feel all that good about it. ROBERT WILLETT
CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina won again on Saturday, a 93-87 victory against East Carolina that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. But therein lays the problem. UNC at times in the first half shot as well as it had all season and led by 16 points at halftime. The Heels played sloppily throughout the second half, but still led by 15 with about five minutes to go.
And then disaster struck. The Pirates, trailing throughout, cut UNC’s lead to four with about 30 seconds to play. I’ve received some email from ECU fans who believe the Pirates deserve a lot of credit for that feat. And maybe so. They made some shots, forced some turnovers and created a sense of nervousness inside the Smith Center.
But I take the opposing viewpoint: What transpired during the final minutes wasn’t so much the result of ECU making plays. It was more the result of UNC giving things away. There were turnovers. A missed free throw. An inability to defend perimeter shooters. Add it all up, and UNC coach Roy Williams and his players sounded afterward more like they’d lost than they’d won.
Williams and his players share a mutual frustration over the mistakes this team continues to make. I wrote about that in a story published today.
In the meantime, some thoughts about various issues that continue to plague the Tar Heels:
--Lack of energy/urgency
During one timeout in the second half on Saturday, Williams gathered his players in a half circle, kneeled down on one knee and spoke with the gestures and facial expression of an angry, angry man. Dexter Strickland, the senior guard, said later that Williams’ focused his ire on the Heels’ lack of energy and urgency. And, indeed, UNC has at times seemed lethargic. That’s a troubling characteristic for a team that can ill afford to coast. The UNC of season could, at times, and get away with it. This group can’t.
--Failing to communicate/switch off on screens
How many times after the first 10 games have we heard Williams criticize his team for its failure to read/communicate/switch/defend opponent screens? We’ve heard it a lot. Butler abused the Tar Heels with screens that set up shooters for wide open shots, and even lesser opponents have routinely confused the Heels’ defense. The Heels’ young post players, especially, have had difficulty here. The good news? Improving should be relatively easy while players continue to gain more experience.
--Chemistry/lack of cohesion
Do the Tar Heels have a chemistry problem? To me, it doesn’t appear so. At least not on the court. I don’t see a lot of signs of outward frustration, or bickering, or lack of getting along. After games, though, two players in recent weeks have said this team isn’t on the same page. James Michael McAdoo said that after the loss at Indiana. And on Saturday, Reggie Bullock said he didn’t some of his teammates were “all in.”