Tar Heels learning as they go

Dysfunctional performance at Indiana a painful lesson

acarter@newsobserver.comDecember 1, 2012 

— On the plane ride home, Leslie McDonald and his teammates sat in silence, lost in thought.

“Very quiet,” McDonald, a North Carolina junior guard, said of the trip back after a humbling 83-59 loss at No. 1 Indiana on Tuesday night. “That’s all I can say. It was very quiet. It was a time for everybody to think to themselves and get all their thoughts in. If you were mad, you were mad.”

The Tar Heels had good reason to be mad. They lacked toughness in Assembly Hall, failed to execute offensively and defensively and bickered among themselves during some of the game’s more difficult moments.

Thursday, it was back to work – back to practicing and preparing for a game Saturday at home against Alabama-Birmingham. McDonald and his teammates returned to practice with the Indiana game but a painful memory they hope will turn into a positive learning experience.

“It was tough,” McDonald said of practice. “But it was a lot of learning. We got out a lot of learning. We learned some new sets. We’ve just gotten back to the way of getting back to work. This is not the end for us. We’ve (been) through adversity.”

A lot went wrong for the Tar Heels on Tuesday night. As much as they like to run, they couldn’t keep with the Hoosiers, who consistently beat UNC’s defense for layups and dunks in transition.

The Tar Heels never did find an offensive rhythm. They struggled to work the ball inside. On the perimeter, they attempted only eight 3-pointers and made one of them.

“It starts with everybody just doing their job,” junior guard Reggie Bullock said Friday. “The 3s will come, and our shots will come. But I feel like it starts with setting good screens and getting open and just being able to be in triple-threat position when you catch the ball, to be able to actually shoot.”

Bullock suffered a hand injury against Indiana that could keep him out of the game Saturday. He was injured, he said, when Hoosiers forward Cody Zeller stepped on his hand while both players fought to recover a loose ball.

In addition to Bullock, P.J. Hairston continues to recover from an injury that could keep him on the bench. After suffering a knee sprain in practice this week, Hairston didn’t make the trip to Indiana.

The uncertain status of Bullock and Hairston doesn’t bode well for a team that is still trying to identify its most reliable perimeter player. Sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo has emerged as the Tar Heels’ most reliable scorer.

Seven games into the season, UNC still hasn’t developed a consistent second and third scoring option. Further, the perimeter shooting has been inconsistent. UNC used the 3-point shot effectively in comfortable victories against Long Beach State, Mississippi State and Chaminade, but the Tar Heels abandoned that element of the offense at Indiana.

Other parts of UNC’s game went missing, too.

“Our identity was to play the Carolina way and I think we didn’t do that when we played against Indiana,” McDonald said. “Whether it’s getting in the post, running fast break, playing great defense or shooting 3s, we didn’t play the Carolina way.”

Not only did they not play well together, but they didn’t communicate effectively, either. During one moment, coach Roy Williams said Tuesday, senior guard Dexter Strickland vented at a teammate after Strickland made a defensive mistake on a screen.

In other moments, McAdoo said, the Tar Heels failed at “coming together as a team.” Bullock supported McAdoo’s criticism.

“Off the court, we’re brothers,” Bullock said. “We never fight, anything, but we love each other. But on the court, I just feel like it’s a lot of people pointing fingers and not taking responsibility of what they’re doing.”

After that quiet ride home, McDonald said the disappointment of the Indiana game has dissipated in the past two days. But he said the bad taste still lingers and he suspected it would for a while, until the Tar Heels have their next chance to prove themselves.

Carter: 919-829-8944

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