CHAPEL HILL — Following a disheartening defeat at Virginia earlier this week, North Carolinas players and coaches met for more than three hours on Monday, and then followed that with a players-only meeting in which some of the more outspoken Tar Heels challenged one another to reverse the season before it starts to slip away.
It had been a productive stretch of days, coach Roy Williams said, which is what made the Heels 68-59 defeat against Miami on Thursday night all the more troubling. Like in the game against Virginia, UNC (10-5, 0-2) played the Hurricanes close throughout, and trailed by just a point in the final minutes.
And like in the game against Virginia, the Tar Heels suffered a late, puzzling collapse defined by defensive lapses and a failure to execute or make a shot on offense. The Heels lack of urgency most bothered Williams on Sunday after that defeat in Charlottesville, Va., but at least that wasnt the problem on Thursday, he said.
Williams, though, struggled to explain the reason for a pair of losses that came with so many similarities.
This a smart aleck response but its not intended it to be that way, Williams said when asked how the Heels could lose consecutive games in nearly identical ways. If I knew what it was, I would have already changed it.
UNC trailed Virginia 51-50 on Sunday before the Cavaliers went on a game-clinching 10-0 run. Against Miami (11-3, 2-0), the Tar Heels trailed 56-55 with five minutes to play before allowing the Hurricanes eight consecutive points.
Six of those came on back-to-back 3-pointers from Trey McKinney Jones and Durand Scott, both of whom made their shots from the same spot in the corner of the left sideline.
Williams described as defensive lapses the sequence that left both McKinney Jones and Scott so wide open. Perhaps equally concerning, Williams also described the Tar Heels, whose confidence was already shaky entering Thursday, as a rattled group following another difficult defeat.
When youre a basketball player at North Carolina, people expect a lot of things of you, Williams said. Ive got some really good kids that are hurting right now, and theyre also feeling a little bit of stress. Theres no question about that.
The Heels last lost their first two ACC games in 2009, and they went on to win the national championship. That was a team led by Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington, All-American candidates, all.
This UNC team, meanwhile, is searching for answers, confidence and an identity. The 0-2 conference start is UNCs fourth in school history, and the Tar Heels on Saturday at Florida State will hope to avoid their first 0-3 conference record since 1997.
For a while, things went well enough for the Heels on Thursday. They werent particularly sharp during the first half, but still held a 32-30 halftime lead, and throughout the first 15 minutes of the second half, neither team led by more than four points.
But the Heels made just three shots from the field during the final 10 minutes one of them a P.J. Hairston 3-pointer that cut Miamis lead to one with five minutes to play. After that, UNCs next five possessions went like this: turnover, miss, miss, miss, miss. Three of those misses came on errant 3-point attempts.
We had great shots on the offensive end, said Reggie Bullock, UNCs junior guard who made three 3s in the first half, but missed all four of his 3-point attempts in the second half. And they just didnt fall for us tonight.
Amid the Tar Heels struggles, Bullock has been perhaps the most outspoken of his teammates. He said afterward that the Heels should be mad at their play.
But some way, somehow, real real soon, well turn it around and get back on the right track, said Bullock, who finished with 11 points.
James Michael McAdoo led UNC with 14 points, but he and Bullock combined to make just nine of their 30 attempts from the field. Miami, meanwhile, received efficient games from forwards Kenny Kadji and Julian Gamble, who scored the first six points of the second half and finished with 14 points.
Kadji led the Hurricanes with 18 points and nine rebounds. He blocked four shots, including two lay-ups in the final minute while UNC was attempting to spark a rally, and made a pair of 3-pointers.
The blocked shots were huge, Miami coach Jim Larranaga said.
He and the Hurricanes, who shot 48.1 percent during the second half, celebrated their first 2-0 ACC start in school history. In another part of the Smith Center, the Tar Heels lamented another game that slipped away. Now they hope to turn things around before their season does the same.
As he did earlier in the week, Williams emphasized once again that he wont be panicking. He anticipated a sleepless night of watching film and preparing for practice on Friday before leaving for Tallahassee, Fla. His players, meanwhile, attempted to answer the similar questions to those that surrounded them on Sunday.
Right now, were just hurt, said Marcus Paige, the freshman point guard who finished with 10 points and five assists. We had a really good practice. We had a good gameplan.
Were hurt but were also aware that we still have time to get this thing turned around.
Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter