— Well, that was ugly. North Carolina came up here to Syracuse on Saturday and left with a 57-45 defeat. It wasn’t in doubt in the end. There was no real drama. The only question in the final moments was whether the Tar Heels would set a record for their fewest points under Roy Williams.
And they did set that record. Here’s the story of the game.
And some thoughts …
1. This loss wasn’t unexpected, but it’s still troubling.
UNC wasn’t going to just keep on beating top-10 teams all the time. The Tar Heels this season had already beaten Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky, and you knew UNC couldn’t just keep on beating highly-ranked opponents. Not with how inconsistent the Tar Heels are. So this wasn’t a surprise, that UNC came up here and lost. Even so, it’s still a troubling defeat because of how poorly UNC played. The Tar Heels shot 39.2 percent – thanks to making some late shots after the outcome had been decided – and they could neither work the ball inside nor shoot it effectively from the outside. Defensively, UNC held Syracuse to 35 percent shooting, but the Orange rebounded 17 of their misses and turned those into 12 points. Overall, outside of a brief early stretch, Syracuse played like the hungrier, more energized team.
2. There was a lot of pressure on UNC before, but now it will mount.
No UNC team has been 0-3 in the ACC since the 1996-97 team, which rebounded from that poor start and reached the Final Four in what turned out to be coach Dean Smith’s final season. That team had Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison, among others. This team doesn’t have a duo like Carter and Jamison but, still, UNC has shown that it can play with, and beat, any team in the country. The confidence UNC gained from victories against Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky, though, appears long gone. This is a shaken group. Williams acknowledges that. His players acknowledge that. The Tar Heels have a week off before hosting a bad Boston College team next Saturday. But with the way UNC is playing you can’t count on anything. Boston College has been terrible to start ACC play, but the Eagles did go on the road and beat Virginia Tech on Saturday. Given some of UNC’s performances this season – surviving late against Holy Cross and Davidson, losing to Belmont and UAB – would anybody be surprised by a close game next Saturday?
3. What happened to the Tar Heels shooting?
This was the third consecutive game in which UNC shot less than 40 percent from the field. Before this ugly streak began, UNC had shot less than 40 percent in just two other games this season. The Tar Heels haven’t this kind of shooting drought – three consecutive games shooting less than 40 percent – since 2011. UNC has never been a strong perimeter shooting team this season. That’s not likely to change. Still, what UNC has lacked on the outside, it has often made up for on the inside. The Tar Heels’ post offense, though, was non-existent on Saturday. Joel James, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks combined for two points, and were a combined 1-for-7 from the field. James Michael McAdoo got inside at times, especially early, but Syracuse effectively limited that. Roy Williams said he liked the shots his team was generating against the zone. He couldn’t have liked all the misses.
Syracuse held a significant edge in three of the four: offensive rebounding, turnover rate and free throw rate. UNC shot a slightly better percentage, but neither team shot well.
“We’ve just got to play better. We can’t keep needing weeks off to bounce back from games. It’s about time – we’re running out of time. We’re 0-3 now in the league. We’ve got to start playing harder and making this mean something so we can right the ship.”
-Marcus Paige, UNC sophomore guard
The Tar Heels next Saturday host Boston College.