It was the kind of victory that had North Carolina coach Roy Williams bemoaning his team’s performance in practice earlier in the week, and one that had him talking about a crystal ball and incense and whatever else he could conjure to help Marcus Paige out of a prolonged slump.
The Tar Heels’ 83-68 victory on Wednesday night against Wake Forest was never in doubt during the second half, even while UNC missed shot after shot and its defensive lapses allowed the Demon Deacons layup after layup.
UNC made it look easy, mostly, and at times its victory at the Smith Center was easy, indeed, even amid anotherpoor shooting performance – the Tar Heels’ second consecutive after they shot a season-low 37.9 percent on Saturday in a victory against N.C. State.
And yet Williams took no solace in his team winning ugly. There was no satisfaction – for him, at least – about much of anything his team accomplished on Wednesday night, outside of victory itself.
“There may be for them,” he said of his players when asked if he could find a sense of satisfaction with winning, and winning comfortably, in a game in which UNC was not at its best. “But I am – satisfaction is not part of my language right now. Nowhere – no. Nowhere close.”
He spent about as much time afterward describing his team’s poor practice earlier in the week than talking about anything that happened in Wednesday night’s game. And then there was the line involving incense – classic Ol’ Roy – about helping Paige solve his shooting woes.
Paige, the senior guard, entered Wednesday having scored three points in victories against Syracuse and N.C. State each. Then he missed his first seven shots against Wake Forest, and made the eighth after a layup worked its way around the rim and finally fell through.
He said he was “surprised,” even, that he made that lone shot, given how things have gone for him lately. And yet while Paige continues to endure the worst shooting stretch of his time at UNC, the Tar Heels continue to win – and win relatively comfortably.
They did on Saturday against the Wolfpack. And again on Wednesday, when Brice Johnson, the senior forward, led the second-ranked Tar Heels (17-2, 6-0 ACC) with 27 points and 11 rebounds. He provided most of his team’s highlights and helped UNC build a 12-point lead during the first six minutes.
Wake Forest (10-8, 1-5) cut its deficit to six points before UNC charged ahead to leadby as many as 19 in the moments before halftime, when the Tar Heels led 46-30. The lead grew to 20 a couple minutes into the second half, and the Deacons never made a significant run to make the game more competitive.
And so for UNC victory never seemed in doubt, even while it continued to miss shot after shot. The Tar Heels during one stretch missed 11 of their 12 shots from the field and actually managed to extend their lead by one point.
They shot 26.5 percent in the second half, their worst in a half this season, and 38.4 percent for the game – their second-worst of the season behind what they did on Saturday against N.C. State. And yet it was a victory without drama or much struggle, not that Williams seemed to notice.
The conversation among his players afterward wasn’t one of being thankful to win ugly. It was one, instead, about the need to get better – and quickly.
Williams seemed thankful, in a sense, that his team played poorly given that it practiced poorly, too. He hoped his players understood the correlation, and afterward it sounded as if they did.
“It started off pretty well,” Johnson said of the ill-fated practice. “But it didn’t end well.”
It ended with Johnson and his teammates running sprints. Some players had to run sprints called “79s.” They derive their name because players have 79 seconds to run across the court and back seven times – 14 trips across the court, total.
“It got ugly,” Johnson said simply.
And it remained ugly on Wednesday. Even so, UNC eclipsed the 80-point mark for the 16th time and won with ease. Too much ease, perhaps.
That was part of the problem, sophomore point guard Joel Berry said. He said during the second half the Tar Heels were “playing the score” and not concentrating on executing their offense independent of their large lead.
That, Berry said, “got coach hot.”
Williams was from the start, though. He was incensed – and saying that he’d be searching for incense to help Paige break out of his slump – by the way the Tar Heels had practiced. His anger carried over, and so did UNC’s sloppiness.
“If we want to be national champions at the end of the year,” said sophomore forward Theo Pinson, “we’ve got to practice like champions.”The News & Observer’s Andrew Carter breaks down the Tar Heels’ 83-68 victory over Wake Forest