SMITH CENTER/CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina needed a win desperately and earned one 80-69 against in-state foe UNC-Asheville on Tuesday night, but with all due apologies on Thanksgiving eve, are the Tar Heels a bunch of turkeys?
Carolina’s offense once again was absent for large chunks of time against the Bulldogs. The Heels shot just 40 percent in the second half in the process of blowing a big lead, and they committed a total of 20 turnovers against a mid-major opponent. Ball-handling has become a crisis along with the club’s perimeter shooting and occasionally its free throw shooting as well.
Problems from last season have lingered into this year, when everyone figured many of those would be solved by incoming talent and an extra year of experience for the returnees. Starting guards Larry Drew and Dexter Strickland combined for eight turnovers, while fellow starter Harrison Barnes committed four miscues of his own. Many of the turnovers were unforced, and in general Carolina’s guards appear to be lacking in confidence.
For his part, Roy Williams was at a loss for answers in the post-game press conference. While praising UNC-A for being a solid club, he continues to express bewilderment at his team’s seeming inability to correct mistakes or maintain an aggressive approach to competition for an entire game.
If you’re looking for positive signs, the likely starting point would be on defense. Although the Bulldogs lacked the size to seriously challenge Carolina’s frontcourt, the Heels did pressure the ball effectively on the perimeter and were able to hold UNC-A to 37 percent shooting. UNC also played bigger on the backboards and crushed the Bulldogs 52-32 in rebounding.
From an individual perspective, Barnes exerted more effort defensively and was a consistent presence as a rebounder. He also hit all three of his long-range shot attempts, though he still missed shots at the rim and finished only 5-for-12 with 13 points. The team’s most natural three-point shooter, Reggie Bullock, missed the game with what Williams referred to as a minor knee injury.
And both Tyler Zeller and Justin Knox are rounding into shape. Zeller has emerged as the No. 1 scoring option, scoring 23 points on 8-for-11 from the field. Knox went for 10 points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes of playing time, and his value to the team becomes more obvious with each game. John Henson continues to be the mystery man inside, as he frustrates Williams with his undeveloped offense yet manages to crack double-figure rebounds in nearly every contest. He’s also among the nation’s very best shot-blockers.
Carolina’s record moved to 3-2, and the Heels will host Charleston on Sunday in a rematch of the game that sent UNC reeling last season. To see the UNC/UNC-Asheville box score, click here.