CHAPEL HILL — Roy Williams, the North Carolina coach, made a joke. Maybe his team should have looked ahead, he said, given how poorly the Tar Heels played at times on Sunday during their loss at Wake Forest.
Looking back on it, yeah, I should have worked on Syracuse zone the whole time since what we worked on for Wake Forest didnt work worth a darn, Williams said earlier this week.
UNC plays at No. 2 Syracuse on Saturday. It will be a difficult test, going up against the Oranges vaunted 2-3 zone defense, but its a test that Williams hasnt wanted his players focusing on.
UNC has a game Wednesday night at the Smith Center against Miami. And, besides, if the Tar Heels could take one thing from their ACC opener, it was that theyre still searching for consistency the lack of which has troubled Williams and his players.
Thats going to be our goal, Williams said of becoming more consistent. Thats what were going to talk about, and have talked about, for the last three weeks. We havent shown it yet. Definitely didnt show it (at Wake Forest).
UNC did some things well at Wake. Like rebounding. The Tar Heels, though, often failed to convert their numerous second chances into points. They scored just 17 points off 24 offensive rebounds.
UNC also attempted 11 free throws, tied for a season-low. (It also attempted 11 in a loss at UAB.) UNCs inability to get to the free throw line, combined with its failure to score after offensive rebounds, were the two factors most responsible for its defeat.
Some players suggested there was something else, too: a lack of toughness and effort. Marcus Paige, the sophomore point guard, described the Wake Forest loss as a wake-up call that the intensity rises in ACC play.
They were attacking us, sophomore forward Brice Johnson said Sunday. They were hitting us and they werent getting fouls called. Were not going to blame it on that. But we were getting in there and trying to put it back up, they were hitting us. And we were trying to finish, but we couldnt. They were just a lot more physical.
The Tar Heels didnt match Wakes intensity and didnt generate opportunities for points at the foul line. Offensively, they also didnt have a way of overcoming an off night from Paige, who scored a season-low eight points.
The Tar Heels 67 points were their third-fewest this season, and their fewest since the 63-59 loss at UAB.
We know people are going to key in on him, after he had a couple of great games early in the non-conference season, Johnson said. Some nights hes not going to be able to score.
There will be no erasing UNCs poor performance at Wake Forest. Yet, in some ways, the game against a rebuilt Miami team which doesnt resemble the Hurricanes who won the ACC tournament last March offers a chance at a do-over.
The Tar Heels have another opportunity to become more consistent, and to finish their second chances. They have another chance to build the kind of toughness they hope will serve them well.
Either way, Williams said, there will be no looking ahead to the weekend until after Wednesday night. Some of his UNC teams, he said, might have been good enough to work ahead. Those teams might have been able to handle preparing for two teams at once. This one, he said, isnt.
Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter