Urge to win hits Tar Heels too late against No. 18 N.C. State

Familiar theme repeats as North Carolina digs 28-point hole Saturday at N.C. State

acarter@newsobserver.comJanuary 28, 2013 

  • This week N.C. State at Virginia Tuesday, 7 p.m., ESPN2   North Carolina at Boston College Tuesday, 9 p.m., ESPNU   Duke at Wake Forest Wednesday, 8 p.m., ACC Network

— When North Carolina men’s basketball coach Roy Williams met with his team at halftime Saturday night, he talked about urgency. Again.

The Tar Heels trailed No. 18 N.C. State by 19 points and Williams didn’t appreciate how they had competed.

“He talked about a couple of plays at halftime where if we had been a little more alert, we would have had a couple of steals,” guard P.J. Hairston said after the 91-83 defeat. “And instead of just getting our hand on it, we would have steals.

“A sense of urgency – you have to have that urge to win. And we didn’t have that urge in the first half.”

Among all that troubled Williams – and it was a long list – the Tar Heels’ lack of urgency might have been the most confounding, and for a couple of reasons. For one, this was not only a game against a neighborhood rival, but an opportunity for UNC to prove itself after an 0-2 start in ACC play. Yet the Tar Heels appeared flat early.

Second, Williams repeatedly has criticized his team’s lack of urgency. It has, in fact, become a familiar postgame refrain – Williams bemoaning his team’s lack of purpose – and it’s one with which his players have grown familiar, too.

Asked why the Tar Heels lacked urgency during the first half, Hairston, who led North Carolina with 19 points, shrugged.

“I guess we were more shocked than anything,” he said, “that State was basically playing our game and running down our throats and getting out in transition and converting off our turnovers and bad shots.”

Sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo, who finished with 13 points, said the Tar Heels “kind of lost our sense of urgency” after they cut N.C. State’s lead to four points with 7 minutes, 10 seconds left in the first half. From there, the Wolfpack went on a 20-2 run to take control.

North Carolina never fully recovered. Williams offered a terse response when asked to explain what went wrong during that onslaught.

“We didn’t run back on defense, they had a greater sense of urgency than we did,” he said. “Twenty to zero, fast break (points in the first half). We work on it, talk about it, work on it, talk about it.”

Though his team rallied and played well during the second half, Williams said learning experiences are “for babies.” Yet after North Carolina’s comeback attempt fell short, that’s what his team was left with – another loss and another learning experience.

“We’ve got to have a greater sense of urgency, we’ve got to have greater effort,” Williams said. “Got to have better coaching. … It was, I’ve already said it – it was a butt-kicking.”

Though his team’s lack of urgency might have most frustrated Williams, it wasn’t the only thing that did. While they floundered defensively throughout the first half, the Tar Heels also had difficulty on offense. They struggled to get into their sets and with McAdoo on the bench early because of foul trouble, North Carolina didn’t establish an inside game.

Only 34 of North Carolina’s 83 points came in the lane, which meant the Tar Heels were especially reliant on outside shooting. That was good and bad. It was good late, when North Carolina shot its way back into the game.

But it wasn’t so good for the majority of the game, when the Tar Heels struggled from the outside. Marcus Paige and Dexter Strickland, North Carolina’s starting backcourt, combined for 13 points with 4-for-18 shooting.

They didn’t play all that well defensively, either, and Williams benched both for a prolonged stretch during the second half.

“He pulled me and Dexter for not sprinting back one or two times, and that was a big emphasis in the game,” said Paige, who missed his first eight shots. “It was kind of sending a message like, ‘Hey, you need to do what we’re telling you to do – do your job.’ Stuff like that.

“And I think it ended up working. We went on a pretty good run in the second half.”

Indeed, the Tar Heels scored 57 points during the final 20 minutes, and after trailing by 28 early in the second half, they trailed by just five with 28 seconds to play. By then, though, it was too late. And North Carolina had done too little.

The Tar Heels’ lack of urgency had doomed them. Again.

Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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