By Bob Sutton
RALEIGH — The questions keep coming for North Carolina’s men’s basketball team.
There are no easy answers for the Tar Heels, who after this latest slippage might find that time is ticking a bit too fast.
In many ways, that’s what happened Sunday afternoon at PNC Arena, where No. 23 North Carolina State blitzed the Tar Heels with a late-game run, pretty much discarding much of the Tar Heels’ solid work that appeared to put them in a good position.
“They went on the run and we didn’t make the plays that we should have made or could have made to make our run,” North Carolina guard RJ Davis said.
In a matter of slightly more than five minutes, the Tar Heels went from up six to down nine in the eventual 77-69 loss.
Yet not everyone was dismissing the postseason for the Tar Heels.
“N-I-T, N-I-T, N-I-T” came the serenading from Wolfpack fans.
North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said blocking out the noise is imperative. Yet the scrutiny won’t ease on these Tar Heels (16–11, 8–8 ACC), who’ve lost five of their last six games.
In the mostly quiet visitors’ locker room, the only acceptable solutions were to move on and start winning more frequently.
“I think just staying together and obviously trying to make a run toward the end of the year and get things going,” forward Pete Nance said. “Like Coach Davis said after the game, it’s not over at all. We’ve got a lot of basketball ahead of us. Just staying locked in. Not hanging our heads low.”
N.C. State’s Jarkel Joiner pretty much finished off the Tar Heels on Sunday. The guard splurged for seven of his 28 points — matching his season high— during a 9–0 run that turned a 60–60 game into pretty much an insurmountable deficit.
“He was feeding off the crowd and the crowd erupted off his made buckets,” Tar Heels guard Caleb Love said.
The Tar Heels will look at their 35.5% shooting from the field as one of the programs. They also allowed N.C. State (21–7, 11–6) to make 64.5% of its second-half attempts. North Carolina committed 13 turnovers and benefitted from only three Wolfpack giveaways.
“I felt we had the same, if not better, shots, and ours did not go in,” Coach Davis said, comparing each team’s second-half attempts.
Before the Wolfpack went wild, North Carolina hit three 3-point attempts in less than three minutes for a 54–48 edge. The Wolfpack notched the next seven points, but that wasn’t the most devastating N.C. State spurt.
That came later.
“They got out in transition, got offensive boards and second-chance points and that allowed them to have a little light, a little spark,” RJ Davis said. “[Joiner] got out in transition as well. I think that kind of got him going.”
The Tar Heels couldn’t match it.
“They got hot and feeding off the energy from the crowd,” Nance said. “We went on a couple runs in that game, too. That was just a crucial point in the game. They made the most of it. They were making every single shot they took during that stretch.”
Love finished with 23 points and Armando Bacot had 16 points and 12 rebounds. Yet the double-double seemed overshadowed by the presence of N.C. State big man D.J. Burns, who racked up 18 points.
“It’s tough when you have somebody who’s 300 pounds who can make jump hooks 10, 11 feet away from the basket,” Bacot said.
Now the Tar Heels seem miles away from reaching any of their goals. Four regular-season games remain.
Coach Davis insists the defeats don’t automatically indicate things aren’t working.
“It’s not working when you quit,” he said.
There will be none of that, the Tar Heels said.
“We’re not giving up,” Bacot said “There’s still more to play.”
How much more after the next two weeks and the ACC Tournament tends to be one of the big questions.
“We just can’t give up,” Love said. “All of our losses hurt. They had a good game and [Joiner] had a great game. They went on a run and we really couldn’t come back from it. … We’ve just got to show up and try to finish the season strong. We definitely can save ourselves. We ain’t ever going to give up.”
As the Tar Heels gathered their belongings to leave Raleigh, they carried a few more wounds — and another loss. They’ve exceeded last season’s loss total and matched the 11 defeats in Roy Williams’ final season in 2020-21.
“Disappointed, you never want to lose a game, especially this type of game,” R.J. Davis said. “There’s a lot of mixed emotions right now running through my brain.”
Bob Sutton is a veteran ACC sports writer who was the sports editor of the Burlington Times-News for 25 years.
N.C. State 77, UNC 69
UNC lineup combinations
|No. 16 Miami||15–5||24–6|
|No. 13 Virginia||15–5||23–6|
|No. 25 Pittsburgh||14–6||21–10|
Duke 62, North Carolina 57
No. 13 Virginia 75, Louisville 60
Georgia Tech 73, Boston College 65
Virginia Tech 82, Florida State 60
Syracuse 72, Wake Forest 63
No. 26 Miami 78, No. 25 Pittsburgh 76
Clemson 87, Notre Dame 64
End of regular season
UNC scores, schedule
|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. 1 Alabama
|ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|30||Wednesday||L, 77–65||No. 21 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. 14 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||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||No. 12 Duke||Durham||15–8, |
|7||Tuesday||L, 92–85||Wake Forest||Winston-Salem||15–9, |
|11||Saturday||W, 91–71||Clemson||Home|| 16–9, |
|13||Monday||L, 80–72||No. 16 Miami||Home||16–10, |
|19||Sunday||L, 77–69||N.C. State||Raleigh||16–11, |
|22||Wednesday||W, 63–59||Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind.||17–11, |
|25||Saturday||W, 71–63||No. 14 Virginia||Home||18–11, |
|27||Monday||W, 77–66||Florida State||Tallahassee, Fla.||19–11, |
|4||Saturday||L, 62–57||No. 12 Duke||Home||19–12,|
|8||Wednesday||W, 85–61||Boston College||Greensboro||20–12|
|9||Thursday||L, 68–59||No. 14 Virginia||Greensboro||20–13|
Photo via @UNC_Basketball