Louisville hands North Carolina its worst home loss in the Roy Williams era

Coming off one of its best wins of the season on Tuesday against N.C. State, No. 12 North Carolina had hoped to pick up where it left off.

But on Saturday against Louisville, UNC just didn’t have it.

The Cardinals dominated the Tar Heels from the beginning, leading by as many as 15 points in the first half.

And the Tar Heels went on to lose to the Cardinals 83-62. The Tar Heels cut the lead to seven points early in the second half, but even then, the game never felt close. Saturday’s loss to Louisville was the worst home loss in the Roy Williams era.

“I’m at a little bit of a loss,” Williams said. “But that’s OK. It happens in coaching. We have a wonderful group of kids and we’ve got to prepare better. We’ve got a head coach that’s trying but not doing very well.”

It was the Tar Heels’ first loss of ACC play this season, after winning two consecutive road games.

UNC’s top three leading scorers — Cam Johnson, Coby White and Luke Maye — all struggled. They combined for 23 points. Maye finished with nine points, and was 3-for-14 from the floor. Johnson had 10 points, and White had four points.

North Carolina’s Luke Maye (32) looses the ball out of bund under defensive pressure from Louisville’s Christen Cunningham (1) and Steven Enoch (23) during the first half on Saturday, January 12, 2019 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

As a team, the Tar Heels shot 34.5 percent from the floor.

“We got our butts kicked,” Johnson said. “They came out and hit us in the mouth early and we struggled to get back.”

UNC coach Roy Williams appeared frustrated with his players.

In the second half, cameras captured him go down to his knee after talking with his team. Williams said he just got a little dizzy. Williams has collapsed in games before due to vertigo attacks.

“It wasn’t pleasant, but that’s happened before,” Williams said. “I’ve lived to 68. If I’m going to die, I hope it’s not during a game we play like that. I want to die when we play frickin’ well.”

North Carolina coach Roy Williams collects himself with the help of the players on the bench during the second half against Louisville on Saturday, January 12, 2019 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Williams was handed his worse home loss in 16 seasons at North Carolina, a 21 point defeat by Louisville. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Williams finished the game, but the play from his team did not get better.

Before the end of the game, the Dean Smith Center was about half full.

Heading into the game, everything seemed to be in UNC’s favor. The Tar Heels were coming off a big 90-82 road win over No. 15 N.C. State. Louisville was coming off an 89-86 overtime loss to Pittsburgh.

The Tar Heels had been undefeated at the Dean Smith Center. But it looked as if the Cardinals wanted it more.

The Cardinals started the game making their first seven shots from the floor, including four 3-pointers. And the Cardinals led the Tar Heels 18-8 in the first 4 1/2 minutes of the game.

Louisville’s Steven Enoch (23) dunks over North Carolina’s Luke Maye (32) during the first half on Saturday, January 12, 2019 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

UNC cut the lead to 20-14 with 12:17 left in the first half, but Louisville continued to respond with clutch shots. The Cardinals increased their lead to as much as 15 points in the first half.

UNC reserve forward Brandon Huffman gave the Tar Heels a spark off the bench. He scored four points and had an offensive rebound in three minutes, earning him a round of applause from appreciative fans when he exited the game.

Huffman played earlier than normal because UNC sophomore forward Sterling Manley is still out with a sore knee. Manley, a key rotational player, missed his fourth consecutive game.

Huffman helped energize his team as they trailed by nine points at halftime.

But even that was not enough. Louisville continued to hit tough shots, and its bench celebrated. Louisville increased its lead to as much 22 points in the second half.

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Jonathan M. Alexander has been covering the North Carolina Tar Heels since May 2018. He previously covered Duke basketball and recruiting in the ACC. He is an alumnus of N.C. Central University.
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