Carolina was taken to task this week by a few teams who, depending on whom you ask, either punched above their weight or are criminally underrated.
Last Saturday’s game against Notre Dame found the Heels needing one of South Bend’s lynchpin players to miss not one but two buzzer beaters in order to walk away with their fourteenth win of the season. After Joel Berry canned a pair of free throws to put the Heels up one with seven seconds left, Carolina’s defense planted their heads firmly somewhere unmentionable and allowed T.J. Gibbs to dash the length of the court and take a potential game-winning shot. The ball clanked back iron, and, for an instant, Tar Heel nation breathed a sigh of relief. That is, of course until the rebound fired straight back to Gibbs, who heaved a second hopeful game-winner. Again he missed. Again a sea of light blue relaxed their shoulders, and Carolina left Indiana with, as Roy Williams described it in a way only Roy Williams could, a befuddling win.
Three short days later, and despite their best efforts, Clemson dropped their fifty-ninth straight game in Chapel Hill on Tuesday. The game, which was hardly assured as the Tigers hit over a dozen straight shots in the second half, was compelling wire to wire but eventually found the Heels’ talent too much for Clemson to handle.
Cameron Johnson couldn’t miss, shooting 70 percent from the field, while Luke Maye toughed through a cut on his face that stirred memories of another beloved Tar Heel with a blood-streaked cheek.
The Heels wrapped up this very underwhelming week with a sloppy, turnover-laden win against Georgia Tech and an absolute abomination of a game at Virginia Tech.
I could only assume that Joel Berry spent too much time playing in the snow, as the usually sure-handed guard couldn’t find anything close to a rhythm. With five or so minutes left in the game, though, a hard foul on Berry, followed by an Iversonian walkover by Tech’s point guard that resulted in him getting a technical, finally lit a fire beneath Carolina’s collective asses. It was relatively smooth sailing from there, but this remains a team that hardly inspires confidence. The talent is there. It’s the groove that’s lacking.
And then there was last night. A game after which Roy Williams told reporters that he couldn’t repeat to them certain words he shared in the Heels’ locker room. The game was awful. The Heels looked terrible. So awful and terrible, in fact, that I’m still processing just how awful and terrible it was.
More on that next week.
Carolina’s up and down season continues as we trudge through conference play. Games like those against Tech and the Irish, which found the Heels playing some of their worst ball of the season, followed by Tuesday’s win over Clemson, in which Carolina looked like a top-ten squad, have become something of a norm in Chapel Hill. (And then that Virginia Tech disaster, but again, next week.) Luckily for the fans, the Heels know when to cut the herky-jerky hoops and put their foot on the floor, and that tends to happen sometime around March.
Two Tar Heels found their names on the midseason Wooden Award watch list. Though I doubt Joel Berry or Luke Maye (or anyone, for that matter) stand a chance as long as Oklahoma’s Trae Young keeps making his opponents look like the Washington Generals, it’s nice to see them get the recognition.
As is usually the case with ACC play, it ain’t getting any easier. The schedule gets some teeth as Carolina’s next six games include Duke, Clemson, Notre Dame, and two against State. Now would be as good a time as any for the Heels to put their foot
Oh. And Zion Williamson committed to Duke.