By Doc Kennedy
Somewhere in America, someone woke up on Wednesday morning and saw UNC’s 92–85 loss at Wake Forest and said, “I’ll bet that was a competitive game, a decent loss for UNC since Wake plays well at home and it’s tough to win on the road in the ACC.”
And they would be wrong.
While Wake does play well at home and road wins are at a premium in the ACC, Carolina spit and sputtered through an uninspired first half, trailing by 22 points at halftime. The Tar Heels fell behind by as many as 27 in the second half before the Deacons put it on cruise control with about 13 minutes left. UNC chipped away at the lead enough to make Wake sweat as the Heels cut the lead to seven on a couple of occasions, but the hole was too deep, as Carolina dropped its 3rd straight game.
Anyone hoping to see a sense of urgency from UNC, given the difficulty of their season-ending schedule and status squarely on the bubble, was sorely disappointed. Wake’s offense was clicking, and the Heels offered little resistance, despite coming into the game with the ACC’s second-best adjusted defensive efficiency. Over half of Wake’s first-half shots were layups or dunks. In the second half, UNC played much better, aided by the Deacons mostly mailing in the last 10 minutes that weren’t Tyree Appleby free throws. But a 27-point hole is just too deep to overcome.
With that in mind, here is the Wake Forest Edition of the Good, Bad, and Ugly Report:
The senior big man had yet another double-double, scoring 17 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, in only 22 minutes. He was pretty much the only Tar Heel that came to play in the first half, and he had some harsh words for his teammates after the game (more on that later). Bacot deserves better than he has gotten the past two weeks.
The grad transfer from Northwestern had his most efficient game in quite a while, posting a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds on 5 of 8 shooting.
It was nice to see UNC put up 60 points in the second half, including 41 points in the game’s last 9:45. This was especially refreshing given that the Heels had only scored 50 points total in their previous two halves combined (second half vs. Duke and first half vs. Wake). As Roy Williams said, everything looks better when the ball is going in the basket.
There’s no other word for it; UNC’s outside shooting is just bad. R.J. Davis had seemed to shake off his early-season finger injury. But since he was hit in the face and reaggravated the finger near the end of the Syracuse game, he is shooting 12 of 43 (28%) from the floor and 1 of 15 (6.7%) from 3-point range. Caleb Love is shooting 30% from three in ACC play and while he was 4 of 9 from behind the line against Wake, he was only 5 of 16 from elsewhere on the floor. Nance is 3-15 from three in the last five games. Leaky Black is shooting 26.5% in ACC play.
As a team, Carolina is shooting only 30.5% from 3-point range, which ranks 318th out of 352 Division I teams, and in the ACC, only Boston College shoots worse. The result of not being able to hit shots from outside means teams are packing it in against Bacot. In turn, Bacot does not get involved in the offense, which UNC absolutely must do to be successful.
UNC’s first half
Lots of words could be said about UNC’s first half, many of them are not family-friendly. On defense, Carolina allowed the Deacs to shoot 51% from the floor and 45% on 3-point attempts. On offense, UNC only shot 33% while only attempting five 3-pointers (and missing all of them). The first-half woes spread into the first five or six minutes of the second half before Wake took the foot off the gas and the Heels started coming back.
Although UNC had lost eight games coming into Tuesday night, those losses were by a combined 45 points. Except for a bad stretch against Indiana, Carolina had been competitive in all those defeats, often leading in the second half of each of those games. Against Wake, the Heels fell behind big early and even when UNC was in a position to really change the face of the game, bad decisions blunted the run.
The low basketball IQ has been on display all season, and Tuesday night, 24 games into the season, Bacot was calling out any teammate who didn’t want to be there to not show up for the next practice. This is not a team that should be struggling to find itself. This is a team returning four starters, including a fifth-year senior, another senior, and two juniors, and the final starter is a fifth-year Power 6 transfer. Let’s hope the Pitt loss didn’t break the Tar Heels. Carolina didn’t look great against Duke, but the Blue Devils didn’t look great in return. UNC came out flat against Wake, and the Deacons embarrassed the Heels for the better part of 30 minutes.
While the loss in Winston-Salem is not a season-ender, the ice is getting thinner. The Heels are squarely on the bubble with league-leading Clemson coming to Chapel Hill on Saturday. Carolina will need to hold serve at home at every opportunity to keep its NCAA hopes alive. The feeling of a 6–1 January with the only loss at UVA without Bacot is long in the rearview mirror and UNC is going to need to find that recipe that was cooking last month to get themselves back into the postseason picture.
Doc Kennedy is an alum and longtime UNC fan who is a former high school and college basketball coach and wrote this report for years on Tar Heel Blog.
Photo by Smith Hardy
You are a great writer and really explain things well. I am surprised how the season has progressed. My only deal is they cannot make the long shot . I enjoy your column and keep it up! My best, RogerWilkes
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