CHAPEL HILL — North Carolinas 63-57 loss on Wednesday night against Miami left coach Roy Williams reflective and sour, and it left him questioning his leadership and his mental state.
I do feel mentally probably worse than Ive ever felt as a head coach right now, Williams said after a defeat that gave the Tar Heels an 0-2 start in the ACC for the second consecutive season. That also shows what a blessed life Ive had. But Ive got good kids. Ive got to do a better job with them.
What started off with promise on Wednesday night, with UNC scoring the first eight points of the game, ended in disappointment, and ended after several thousand in the Smith Center had already left their seats empty. They didnt care, evidently, to stay until the end to watch the conclusion of UNCs puzzling, enigmatic performance.
UNC (10-5, 0-2 ACC) returned home on Sunday night following a disappointing, uninspired defeat at Wake Forest hoping to recapture some of what carried the Tar Heels through impressive victories against Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky. Instead, though, UNC put more distance between itself and those performances.
When you go to school here and you coach here as an assistant and you come back and coach here, its a feeling of ownership and its a feeling of pride, Williams said. And right now were not doing a very good job with this basketball team. Thats the hardest thing there is Ive ever had to say.
By the end, the Tar Heels could only take solace that they made it interesting in the final 90 seconds. That was a contrast to the great majority of what preceded those 90 seconds.
Miami (9-6, 1-2) led by 12 with two minutes to play, and then by 11 with 1:26 left, after Nate Britt, the freshman UNC guard, made one of two free throws.
From there, though, the Tar Heels J.P. Tokoto made a 3-pointer that cut Miamis lead to eight with 69 seconds left. And then, after a turnover, James Michael McAdoo, the junior forward, converted a three-point play that cut the Hurricanes lead to five with 52 seconds left.
There was hope, briefly, inside the Smith Center, and there was more after Marcus Paige, the sophomore guard, made a 3-pointer that again cut Miamis lead to five with less than 30 seconds to play. Miami committed a turnover but UNC couldnt take advantage. And then it was over an ugly defeat that left the locker room quiet and Williams emotional.
Very quiet, Leslie McDonald, the UNC senior guard, said of the atmosphere inside the Tar Heels locker room. I am assuming that everyone is hurt deep down inside, because I am.
It doesnt get any easier for the Tar Heels, who play at No. 2 Syracuse on Saturday.
The defeat at Wake Forest might have been an upset in name only, given the Deacons proclivity for beating ranked teams at home. The defeat against Miami, though, was something different.
The Hurricanes are the defending ACC champions, and they beat UNC three times a season ago, once so badly that it prompted Williams to use a smaller, quicker lineup the rest of the season. Since then, though, Miami had lost its top six players, and only one member of the current team had started a game in college.
Even so, the Hurricanes on Wednesday night mostly did what they wanted, which was to control the pace and limit the Tar Heels transition opportunities. The Hurricanes, who rank near the bottom nationally in possessions per game, routinely work the shot clock, and make opposing teams defend for long stretches.
It wasnt pretty, what Miami did on offense, but it didnt have to be. The Tar Heels shot 30.8 percent Miami shot 42 percent and UNC often went long stretches without making a shot from the field against Miamis zone defense. The Tar Heels scored just four fast break points.
Different, Britt said of the Hurricanes grind-it-out pace. A whole lot different.
Britt acknowledged that he and his teammates had difficulty adjusting. The Tar Heels also faltered against Miamis zone defense. That doesnt bode well for UNC given that it will see another zone on Saturday.
Williams said a lot of things went wrong against the zone on Wednesday night. UNC scored the first eight points of the game, and all of them came in the first two minutes and nine seconds. From there, the Tar Heels scored just 15 points the rest of the half. At one point, they went more than five minutes without making a shot from the field, and they trailed 29-23 at halftime.
McAdoo finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds and he was the only UNC player who scored in double figures. Rion Brown, the Hurricanes senior guard, led Miami with 19 points.
Outside of a defiant one-handed dunk from Tokoto about five minutes into the second half, there were few highlights for the Tar Heels, who never erased Miamis lead in the second half. Afterward, the loss left Williams and his players searching for answers and confidence. Paige acknowledged he and his teammates were shaken.
Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter