WINSTON-SALEM — During the first half, North Carolina coach Roy Williams counted four turnovers that his team committed simply while it was in the process of dribbling. In the second half, he counted three more, he said, that happened when his team attempted routine passes.
Then there were all the missed shots after offensive rebounds. Too many to count. The Tar Heels had their chances on Sunday night second and sometimes third chances but they often squandered them during a 73-67 defeat at Wake Forest.
UNC (10-4, 0-1) lost its ACC opener for the second consecutive season, following the defeat a season ago at Virginia. Then, like now, the Tar Heels learned a lesson in toughness and, particularly, a lesson in the importance of finishing plays, and capitalizing on scoring opportunities.
Thats something thats a wakeup call for some of our guys, Paige, who scored a season-low eight points, said afterward inside the UNC locker room. You have to go strong in our league. The intensity level, you cant just get it and go back up soft and expect to get a basket.
Its disappointing to rebound as well as we did and not get much out of it.
The Tar Heels inability to turn second-chance opportunities into points cost them a victory at the Joel Coliseum, where until Sunday UNC hadnt lost since 2009. The Tar Heels finished with 24 offensive rebounds Wake Forest (11-3, 1-0) had eight but they turned those into just 17 points.
The ratio was even more troubling for UNC during the first half, when it scored seven points off of 17 offensive rebounds. The Tar Heels during the first 20 minutes rebounded nearly 20 of their missed shots, and held the Demon Deacons to a single offensive rebound, and yet UNC trailed by two at halftime.
When you get the ball on an offensive rebound two or three feet from the basket, you should finish the play or get fouled, Williams said.
Instead, the Tar Heels rarely did either one of those things. They attempted 11 free throws and made seven of them while Wake Forest went 19-for-33 from the line. The Demon Deacons, who for the third time since last season beat a top-20 team at home, limited the 19th-ranked Tar Heels scoring chances with a physical, bruising defensive effort.
Offensively, meanwhile, Wake often sliced through the Tar Heels defense UNC used a zone on a couple of possessions, Williams said and penetrated to the rim for easier scoring opportunities. Travis McKie, the Demon Deacons senior forward, finished with a game high 16 points.
Three of those came with about one minute to play, after UNC sophomore J.P. Tokoto had cut Wake Forests lead to 64-61 with an authoritative dunk about a minute earlier. After a defensive stop, the Tar Heels twice had an opportunity to cut the Demon Deacons lead to one or two the game but James Michael McAdoo, the junior guard, committed one of his five turnovers and then, after a steal, Tokoto missed a short jumper on the baseline.
McAdoo, quiet in the moments after the game, lamented his teams number of missed opportunities.
I just feel like we werent able to capitalize, said McAdoo, who led UNC with 13 points. Plain and simple. Especially on the offensive boards.
Williams said UNC rushed those possessions. McKie, meanwhile, made a layup and a foul shot to extend the lead back to six, and the Tar Heels didnt come any closer during the final minute. Jeff Bzdelik, the Wake Forest coach who has faced no shortage of criticism in recent seasons, said he understood the significance of this a victory against the Tar Heels.
Its another step in the right direction, said Bzdelik, in his fourth season as the Demon Deacons head coach.
For UNC, meanwhile, it was another inconsistent performance in a season already full of them. Entering the start of conference play, Williams had been hopeful that his team would begin to forge an identity, and that it could avoid the wild swings that defined the first two months of the season.
Instead, those swings persisted in the first game of the conference portion of the season. In some aspects, the Tar Heels played well enough to win. In others, they were woeful. UNC shot 38.7 percent, and missed 19 of its final 24 shots from the field in the first half.
In the second half, Wake led for all but about a minute. The Demon Deacons took control of the game, after it was tied at 38, with a 13-2 run from which the Tar Heels never fully recovered. Not that they didnt have their chances. UNC had plenty.
But, Williams said, we werent tough enough, physical enough, strong enough, explosive enough.
Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter