CORAL GABLES, Fla. — There was a time not long ago when the kind of loss that North Carolina suffered on Saturday would have caused a scene when it would have inspired a celebration and when it might have forced coach Roy Williams and his players to run for cover, back to their locker room.
They did that a little more than a year ago after a one-sided loss at Florida State, where the Tar Heels left the court early to avoid the onslaught of celebrating, court-storming fans. But after this, North Carolinas 87-61 loss at No. 8 Miami, the scene was unusually normal.
The Tar Heels simply trudged back to their locker room after another loss, their worst of the season. The Hurricanes didnt even mill about afterward to celebrate. It was as if this had all been expected, and maybe it should have been given the way things have gone for North Carolina and Miami, which began the game on a 9-0 run and never trailed.
Theres not a lot you can say, Williams said afterward. We didnt play as well as we wanted to play by any means, and they were pretty much playing pretty well hitting on a lot cylinders and all those clichés that you want to use. But we didnt have many answers for them.
Especially on the perimeter. Even in better times, Williams teams sometimes have had difficulty defending the 3-pointer. In the past, opposing teams often had to shoot successfully from the perimeter to have a chance against the Tar Heels.
On Saturday, though, the Tar Heels never had a chance because of suspect perimeter defense. After a start that Williams described as terrible, North Carolina rallied from that early deficit and trailed by seven with about six minutes to play before halftime.
One minute later, Miami began the decisive stretch that put the game away. It began with a Durand Scott 3 with five minutes to go before halftime. The Hurricanes made 3s on their next three possessions and extended their lead to 15. The Tar Heels never again cut the deficit to single digits.
Miami made 10 3-pointers during the first half and finished with a season-high 15. Shane Larkin, who led the Hurricanes with 18 points, made five of those 3s. Kenny Kadji and Scott, both of whom finished with 17 points, made three 3s each.
I dont think they were tough shots, Dexter Strickland, North Carolina senior guard, said of the 3s the Tar Heels allowed. I think we did a bad job on defense. You know, Kadji made a couple of tough shots. But as far as early in the first half, we just didnt do a good job of being in the right spot.
While the Tar Heels struggled defensively, they were equally futile on offense. Outside of a flurry in the first half when Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston made 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions, North Carolinas offense lacked cohesion, rhythm and production.
James Michael McAdoo, who entered Saturday after two of his best games of the season, finished with six points and made just three of his 12 attempts from the field. With McAdoo struggling, the Tar Heels had nowhere to turn in the interior. Only eighteen of their 61 points came in the paint.
They just did a good job of taking it away, McAdoo said of his offensive game. I feel like a lot of it is self-imposed just getting back to old habits that really hindered me.
Though some of McAdoos problems might have been self-imposed, many of the Tar Heels issues werent.
The Hurricanes dominated in all aspects: defense, offense, keeping the Tar Heels off the free throw line. They made five free throws on a season-low six attempts.
Everybody from North Carolina always thinks its just about North Carolina, Williams said. Its not. I mean, Miami is pretty dadgum good they dominated the way we played. It wasnt all just a failure what North Carolina did.
Still, the Tar Heels performance was disappointing, given how much progress they seemed to have made in recent weeks. McAdoo was becoming the player Williams hoped he would. Marcus Paige, the freshman point guard, was coming off two of his better games. Hairston and Bullock, who led North Carolina with 14 points on Saturday, were making shots, and the Tar Heels had been defending well.
All of those positive trends came to an abrupt end in South Florida, and perhaps at the worst time. The Tar Heels travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium to play Duke on Wednesday.
We didnt grow tonight, said Paige, who finished with two points on 1-for-9 shooting. We didnt improve. But at the same time, we understand that we need to just take this one, learn from it quickly and know that weve got to go into Cameron with a different mindset, different level of energy and focus and be ready to play.
The Tar Heels didnt appear to be ready on Saturday. Against the dominant Hurricanes, though, it might not have mattered.
Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter