The Tar Heels move on without Harris, who will miss the rest of the season
By R.L. Bynum
As North Carolina prepares for a crucial and difficult road game against Wake Forest, there was a lot of talk about what the Tar Heels have lacked and what they’ll need Saturday night and the rest of the season.
A lot of that conversation was about leadership and how to deal with adversity, but also new challenges now that guard Anthony Harris will miss the rest of the season. UNC didn’t specify why he’ll be unavailable but said that he still will participate in practices and team activities.
Coach Hubert Davis, in his first comments Friday after UNC announced the news, got emotional but wouldn’t elaborate on the circumstances.
“But I do want to say,” Davis said before taking a long pause. “I love Ant. And I love coaching him. I love being around him every day. I love him being a part of this team and a part of this program and a part of this university. I love Ant.”
Carolina (12–5, 4–2 ACC) visits Wake Forest (15–4, 5–3) at 8 p.m. Saturday (ACC Network). The Deacons have won back-to-back games and four of their last five, with the only loss to Duke.
Without Harris as a defensive stopper bringing energy off the bench, there could be opportunities for freshmen Dontrez Styles and D’Marco Dunn as well as junior transfer Justin McKoy. Davis has shown a preference for a tight rotation, though.
Armando Bacot, who Davis said will be a “full go” for the Wake Forest game after taking a hard spill late in Tuesday’s 85–57 loss at Miami, was particularly saddened with the Harris news. They’ve been on the same teams since seventh grade and they are roommates.
“It’s definitely something that’ll be tough,” Bacot said. “Ant is one of those guys, the way he plays. Especially, you see in big games like Purdue, for example. He kind of lights a fire and just how he plays. You get a big steal, hit a big corner three.”
Harris scored 37 points in 167 minutes. Dunn has 19 points in 62 minutes, McKoy 18 points in 109 minutes and Styles 17 points in 55 minutes.
It will be even more important for Kerwin Walton, who has 58 points in 261 minutes, to find a groove offensively.
Bacot had conversations with all four players.
“I just told them today , ‘Yo, we need y’all to step up even more. Y’all should be trying to break the rims off in practice and really bringing that fire because the opportunity is there now,’ ” Bacot said.
The more significant and big-picture conversations surrounded how and why Carolina absorbed another one-side loss and how to prevent another one. Davis said that his message hasn’t changed since the loss to the Hurricanes, trying to hammer the point of being consistent and bringing the energy every day in games and practices.
“The conversations that I’ve had with the players in response to the way that we played against Miami earlier this week have been really good, really encouraging,” Davis said. “Because this is an area that we want to improve on, it doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect. They’re just kids.”
While Bacot admits that he still struggles with what he needs to do to fill the team’s huge player leadership void, he’s trying to figure out how to help the team react better when games start poorly.
“I could say the right words,” Bacot said. “But, at the end of the day, we’ve got to be more than just talk. We’ve just got to go out there and play. I want to just find more ways on the court, just at the beginning of the game, when things are tough, things that I can do better. Maybe giving a hard foul just to wake us up or slapping the ground on defense. I’m just kind of struggling trying to figure out how to light a fire on us during those times when it gets tough.”
The Miami game was just the latest example of the Tar Heels lacking resiliency when falling behind big early.
“As a team, I think a lot of the times, a lot of us, we always go into this hero-ball thing,” Bacot said. “Kind of usually doesn’t go the right way. It’s just something that me and Leaky [Black], and us as a team, have to figure out how not to just panic in those moments and stay together.”
The performance at Coral Gables, Fla., is stunning given that Bacot revealed that, before the game, they were talking about the Miami game being “like our Super Bowl.” The thinking was that UNC could finally be atop the ACC standings, or at least the second-best team, with a victory.
“Every game, I’m just desperate to win because it’s something that I desperately want to be a part of is just a winning, good team at Carolina,” Bacot said. “It’s something I really want.”
The biggest challenge from the Deacons will be 6–5 guard Alondes Williams, who was Brady Manek’s Oklahoma teammate the last two seasons. Williams played his first two seasons at Triton College in River Grove, Ill., averaging 15.4 points.
After averaging only 6.3 points and less than an assist in 55 games over two seasons for the Sooners, the Wake Forest graduate student leads the ACC in scoring (20.3 points per game) and assists (5.2 per game), and leads the team’s regulars in rebounding at 6.8 per game. On the season, he has 10 blocks and a team-leading 22 steals.
He never scored more than 15 points for the Sooners, but scored more than 30 three times in non-conference games. He has an ACC-high of 25 points against Syracuse in a Jan. 8 win and against Duke in a Jan. 12 loss.
Davis said that Williams is dangerous in “his ability to score and his ability to know when to pass and make his teammates better. It just jumps right out at you when you’re watching him on film. He’s having a terrific season. And he’s fun to watch.”
Black will no doubt be called upon to try to neutralize Williams.
It’s a specific challenge for Saturday’s game. The big challenge is how the Tar Heels respond to the loss at Miami. A win would help UNC stay in the upper-tier of the ACC and a loss could have huge ramifications both on their NCAA tournament resume and their outlook on the rest of the season.
Directors’ Cup standings
Wake Forest season statistics
day, time, TV
|5||83–55 exhibition win||Home||Elizabeth City State|
|9||83–67 win, 1–0||Home||Loyola Maryland|
|12||94–87 win, 2–0||Home||Brown|
|16||94–83 win, 3–0||Road||College of Charleston|
|20||93–84 loss, 3–1||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 7 Purdue|
|21||89–72 loss, 3–2||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 22 Tennessee|
|23||72–53 win, 4–2||Home||UNC Asheville|
|December (5–1, 1-0 ACC)|
|1||72–51 win, 5–2||Home||X — Michigan|
|5||79–62 win, 6–2, 1-0 ACC||Road||Georgia Tech|
|11||80–63 win, 7–2||Home||Elon|
|14||74–61 win, 8–2||Home||Furman|
|18||98–69 loss, 8–3||Las Vegas||Z — No. 18 Kentucky|
|21||70–50 win, 9–3||Home||Appalachian State|
|January (3–2, 3–2 ACC)|
|2||91–65 win, 10–3, 2-0 ACC||Road||Boston College|
|5||78–73 loss, 10–4, 2-1 ACC||Road||Notre Dame|
|8||74–58 win, 11–4, 3–1 ACC||Home||Virginia|
|15||88–65 win, 12–4, 4–1 ACC||Home||Georgia Tech|
|18||85–57 loss, 12–5, 4–2 ACC||Road||Miami|
|22||Saturday, 8, ACCN||Road||Wake Forest|
|24||Monday, 8, ACCN||Home||Virginia Tech|
|26||Wednesday, 7, RSN||Home||Boston College|
|29||Saturday, 2, ACCN||Home||N.C. State|
|1||Tuesday, 8, ACC Network||Road||Louisville|
|5||Saturday, 6, ESPN||Home||No. 8 Duke|
|8||Tuesday, 9, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||Clemson|
|12||Saturday, 2, ESPN or ESPN2||Home||Florida State|
|16||Wednesday, 8, ACCN||Home||Pittsburgh|
|19||Saturday, 4, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||Virginia Tech|
|21||Monday, 7, ESPN||Home||Louisville|
|26||Saturday, 2 or 4, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||N.C. State|
|28||Monday, 7, ESPN||Home||Syracuse|
|5||Saturday, 6, ESPN||Road||No. 8 Duke|
Y — Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off; Z — CBS Sports Classic