By R.L. Bynum
The eyes of Texas were once again laser-focused upon North Carolina and that meant another frustrating day for the Tar Heels.
Down the stretch, No. 14 Carolina pushed No. 17 Texas but Matt Coleman III hit a step-back jumper with 0.1-of-a-second left as the Longhorns once again beat UNC, this time 69–67 in the championship game of the Maui Invitational in Asheville.
Leaky Black tied the game on two free throws with 25 seconds left. But UNC missed three free throws in the last 4:22 (going 18 of 32 for the game) and their last four field goal attempts and Coleman, who had a game-high 22 points, wouldn’t be denied. His shot first bounced on the front of the rim before falling in.
UNC freshman guard RJ Davis played Coleman closely on the final play but couldn’t stop the final shot.
“RJ tried to do a good job and Matt hit a tough shot,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “If we’d had a little more experienced team, we would probably try to double-team. But we haven’t been doing a very good job of that in practice and I didn’t want to give up the layup.”
Texas (3–0) beat UNC (3–1) for the fifth consecutive time, and has won 9 of 12 meetings and 8 of 9 since Williams returned to Chapel Hill.
“I think their attention to detail, their sense of urgency was much better than ours,” Williams said. “We turned the ball over way too many times. Yes, we have freshman guards. But at some point in your life, you’ve got to stop turning the ball over and so we need to do a better job of that. We dug ourselves a big hole, not making free throws and turning the ball over in the first half.’
UNC battled back from a 40–28 halftime deficit after committing 10 first-half turnovers. The Tar Heels only turned the ball over four times in the second half and emphasized getting the ball inside, which allowed Carolina to rally.
“There were three times that a guy got the ball at the 3-point line and drove it all the way to the basket and laid it up,” Williams said. “We didn’t allow those kinds of things in the second half like we did in the first half. But I did like the fact that we kept playing and kept playing and made some shots.”
Carolina didn’t come out of the dressing room for the second half until there were less than two minutes left on the halftime clock. Williams was delivering a message and it was to go inside.
Senior Garrison Brooks took charge, scoring 11 of his team-high and season-high 18 points in the second half. Brooks made a short turnaround jumper with 2:35 to give UNC a brief 65–63 lead, which would be the Tar Heels only second-half edge.
“That’s always his message,” Garrison Brooks said of Williams imploring his team to feed the post. “I think the biggest thing is we didn’t turn the ball over as much [in the second half]. I think we defended better. In the second half, I think we tried to get the ball to the basket. So, being more aggressive.”
In a 12–2 run over the first 4.5 minutes of the second half, all but two points came from post players.
“We could do a better job of just fighting for position,” Armando Bacot said of the inability to score inside much in the first half. “Obviously, that’s one of our strong suits.”
Bacot, who collected a double-double with 10 points and a game-high 12 rebounds, said that the Tar Heels have to shake the habit of getting off to bad starts.
“We just learned that we just need to stay playing hard the whole game and not taking any play for granted,” Bacot said. “That shows if we play hard and go out there and fight, we can compete and just come back. But that’s not how we want to play. We want to play like that the whole game and not just when we’re down.”
The growing pains in the backcourt were obvious against Texas.
Point guard Caleb Love struggled so much early that Williams inserted K.J. Smith at point guard for more than three minutes in the first half, perhaps to send a message.
Love finished with five points but, more importantly, had no assists and four turnovers. Davis, who played point guard for about eight minutes and finished with 11 points, did a little better with three assists and three turnovers.
Both seemed indecisive on what to do on some drives inside and made bad decisions.
“That’s experience,” Williams said. “I don’t think they pressed. You’ve just got to make better decisions. The first two turnovers the first half, we just dribbled the ball and lost it. And, so, I think it’s part of the growing pains but, at the same time, that sounds like an excuse and they’ve got to grow up quickly.
“We can’t keep doing that and saying, ‘well they’re freshmen.’ ” Williams said. “It doesn’t make any difference because it counts in the loss column and you can’t have seven turnovers with two guys running your point-guard spot.”
The Tar Heels had only six assists, the second-fewest under Williams at Carolina. That was the fewest since UNC had six against Virginia on Dec. 8, 2019.
For nearly a minute and a half midway through the second half, Williams played an all-freshman lineup with Davis, Kerwin Walton, Puff Johnson, Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler.
Sharpe collected eight points and five rebounds and Kessler had four points and two rebounds.
Walton’s 3-pointer was the only one UNC could muster. The Tar Heels were held to one 3-pointer twice last season, both road losses (74–57 against Wake Forest and 56–47 against Virginia.)
After four games in seven days, the Tar Heels have only one game scheduled in the next 17 days: Tuesday’s 7:30 p.m. visit to Iowa at 7:30 p.m. (ESPN). The Elon game originally slated for Dec. 12 got postponed because of COVID-19 concerns with Elon. The next scheduled game after Iowa is against Ohio State at 2 p.m. on Dec. 19 in Cleveland as part of the CBS Sports Classic.
No. 17 Texas 69, No. 14 North Carolina 67
UNC lineup combinations
Photo courtesy of the Maui Invitational