By R.L. Bynum
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — After three consecutive losses and continued struggles to find the offensive rhythm that carried Carolina to the Final Four last season, senior center Armando Bacot knows something has to change.
“We’re back to square one now. I guess our choice now is to fight,” said Bacot after battling through right ankle, right shoulder, collarbone and foul-trouble issues to contribute 12 points and 10 rebounds in No. 18 North Carolina’s 77–65 loss to No. 10 Indiana on Wednesday night in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, in an electric environment at Assembly Hall.
The Tar Heels (5–3) endured plenty of struggles early last season and in January and February games, but Bacot says the start of this season doesn’t feel similar.
“It’s different,” Bacot said. “We’re playing hard. We just have to tighten the screws. We’ve been here before, and it’s obviously tough. We all are definitely upset about it. There are small details that are just not clicking for us right now. We’re not going to quit. It’s a long season.”
After the game, the word “fight” frequently came up in the quiet Carolina dressing room, then during Coach Hubert Davis’ remarks.
“You know you have a choice to whine and complain, to point fingers and make excuses, or you can get back up and fight,” Davis said. “I’m not discouraged, but I’m disappointed. When there needs to be a defensive stop or shot made over the last three games, we haven’t been consistently able to do it. We haven’t played our best in the last three games, but we’re going to get better, and we’re going to improve. We’re going to bounce back.”
Graduate transfer forward Pete Nance, who had 15 points and 12 rebounds, said he doesn’t think the team has issues.
“I think we’ve just got to figure stuff out,” Nance said. “I know it’s really early in the season, and we’ve got a lot of time to be able to figure this thing out. So, we’re not going to stop fighting.
“At this time, we need to come closer and closer together to be able to fight out of this hole that we’re in, but there’s no doubt that we’re not going to stop fighting,” Nance said.
RJ Davis said that the common thread in the three-game losing streak is the Tar Heels’ inability to make big plays down the stretch.
“Just executing down the stretch, getting stops when we need them,” RJ Davis said. “That’s the main thing. When things get down toward the last couple of minutes of the game, we need to get stops at the other end. That’s what we’ve got to work on, and we’re going to figure it out.”
Without Brady Manek’s ability to stretch the floor like last season and opponents making it tougher to drive to the basket, Carolina’s chances seem to rise or fall on whether the perimeter shots of Caleb Love and RJ Davis fall.
That hasn’t gone well of late. During the three-game losing streak, Love is 6 of 25 from 3-point range, and Davis is 4 of 13.
Indiana didn’t make it easy for Love.
“We just tried to guard closely,” Indiana coach Mike Woodson said. “That kid’s got unbelievable range with his jump shot. We just tried to stay as close to him as possible. I think when you’re dealing with players that can make shots from the perimeter, you just can’t give them much room.”
Love and Davis took 27 of Carolina’s 57 shots against Indiana. Love is shooting 25% and Davis 28.9% from outside the arc.
“One thing about us, we’ll figure it out,” RJ Davis said. “We’ll get out the slump and the perimeter guys like myself going deep down and knocking down the shot when needed. I’m not discouraged at all.”
UNC is playing decently on defense, but finding rhythm on the offensive end has been challenging. A big reason is that Carolina doesn’t get enough ball movement, and there aren’t crisp passes to move from a tough shot to a good shot.
“I thought our defense was very constrictive, like an anaconda,” said Indiana’s Trace Jackson-Davis, who had 21 points and 10 rebounds. “It was very, very constrictive. We just really sucked the life out of UNC early, and they couldn’t get any big shots, honestly.”
There were assists on only 25% of Carolina’s field goals with only five assists, the lowest since 18.2% with four assists in the season opener against UNCW. UNC shot 38.7% but inexplicably was 6 of 15 on layup attempts.
One positive was that Carolina committed 10 turnovers (tied for the fourth-lowest total this season) with turnovers on only 11.1% of their possessions, the second-best this season (9.5% against College of Charleston). The negative is that the Hoosiers scored 10 points off those turnovers.
“Two things I’m excited about is, one, going home, and then, No. 2 is we get to practice Friday and Saturday. We haven’t practiced in over a week and a half,” said Coach Davis, who wants his team to be better with discipline, details and commitment. “So, I’m excited to practice and practice those details and those disciplines on both ends of the floor that can put ourselves in a position to be successful.”
After those two days of practice, his Tar Heels go into another challenging road environment, facing Virginia Tech (7–1) in the ACC opener for both teams at 3 p.m. Sunday (ACC Network).
The Tar Heels can only hope that Bacot’s physical issues improve and those perimeter shots start falling more frequently.
|28||Friday||W, 101–40||Johnson C. Smith||Home||Exhibition|
|11||Friday||W, 102–86||College of Charleston||Home||2–0|
|20||Sunday||W, 80–64||James Madison||Home||4–0|
|Phil Knight Invitational|
|24||Thursday||W, 89–81||First round: Portland||Portland||5–0|
|27||Sunday||L, 103–101, |
No. 3 Alabama
|ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|30||Wednesday||L, 77–65||No. 18 Indiana||Bloomington, Ind.||5–3|
|4||Sunday||L, 80–72||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||5–4, |
|10||Saturday||W, 75–59||Georgia Tech||Home||6–4, |
|13||Tuesday||W, 100–67||The Citadel||Home||7–4|
|CBS Sports Classic|
|17||Saturday||W, 89–84, OT||Ohio State||New York||8–4|
|30||Friday||L, 76–74||Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||9–5, |
|4||Wednesday||W, 88–79||Wake Forest||Home||10–5, |
|7||Saturday||W, 81–64||Notre Dame||Home||11–5, |
|10||Tuesday||L, 65–58||No. 8 Virginia||Charlottesville||11–6, |
|14||Saturday||W, 80–59||Louisville||Louisville, Ky.||12–6, |
|17||Tuesday||W, 72–64||Boston College||Home||13–6, |
|21||Saturday||W, 80–69||No. 22 N.C. State||Home||14–6, |
|24||Tuesday||W, 72–68||Syracuse||Syracuse, N.Y.||15–6, |
|1||Wednesday||L, 65–64||Pittsburgh||Home||15–7, |
|4||Saturday||L, 63–57||Duke||Durham||15–8, |
|7||Tuesday||7 p.m.||Wake Forest||Winston-Salem||ESPN|
|13||Monday||7 p.m.||No. 19 Miami||Home||ESPN|
|19||Sunday||1 p.m.||No. 22 N.C. State||Raleigh||ESPN|
|22||Wednesday||9 p.m.||Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind.||ESPN or ESPN2|
|25||Saturday||6 or 8||No. 8 Virginia||Home||ESPN|
|27||Monday||7 p.m.||Florida State||Tallahassee, Fla.||ESPN|
ACCN means the game airs on ACC Network.
Photo courtesy Indiana University Athletics