On Thursday, the Tar Heels led 50-48 over Miami with 10:07 to play. North Carolina missed 10 of its final 14 shots, while allowing the Hurricanes to connect on six of their last 13 attempts, including a 5-of-9 effort from beyond the arc.
The Tar Heels lost their poise, forcing the issue on certain offensive possessions and failing to convert on others, while suffering miscues on the defensive end.
At Virginia on Sunday, North Carolina led by as many as eight early in the second half, but had to rally to pull within 51-50 with 3:11 to play. The Cavaliers closed the game on a 10-2 run.
Following the loss in Charlottesville, several Tar Heel players admitted to becoming complacent after building the eight-point lead and then struggled to match Virginia’s intensity during the final minutes of the loss.
UNC is now 0-2 in conference play, marking just the fourth time in school history that the Tar Heels have opened the ACC slate in that manner (’79-80, ’96-97, ’08-09).
The last two times the Tar Heels started 0-2 resulted in trips to the Final Four, including the 2009 national championship. With far more questions than answers at this point of the season, however, just returning to the NCAA Tournament will be a serious challenge.
When asked to explain his team’s late-game collapses following the game, Roy Williams replied: “If I knew what it was I would have already changed it.”
“It's a smart aleck response, but it is also a true response,” he continued. “We had two defensive breakdowns and we missed some open shots ... We're probably never going to play with the sense of urgency that I want us to play with, but I thought that just killed us up at Virginia, but I didn't think that's what it was tonight.”
At this point, Williams could write down a variety of problems on pieces of paper, toss them in a hat and pull out one to focus on during his postgame press conference.
The 10th-year UNC head coach opened the season by highlighting his concern with his team’s ability to score points, but not in its defensive potential. The team hasn’t met those defensive expectations, however. Prior to Miami shooting 47.2 percent in Thursday’s loss, UNC ranked sixth in the ACC in field goal percentage defense.
Miami head coach Jim Larranaga told reporters the biggest difference in this North Carolina team from previous editions was its lack of size in the post. The problems also extend to the backcourt where Dexter Strickland failed to scratch on the stat sheet in all but one category and that was one missed shot in the form of an air ball from 20 feet.
Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo, who along with Strickland called a players-only meeting following the Virginia loss, combined for six points on 2-of-16 shooting in the second half on Thursday.
Williams acknowledged that his team was feeling the stress of the situation, but noted that the players couldn’t let it affect their confidence.
“Life's going to throw you some curveballs and adversity and if you're always worried, you're never going to get that changed,” Williams said. “I told them we're going to come back tomorrow and we're going to work our butts off and then we go to Florida State. And they're pretty doggone good. They're playing great right now, 2-0 in the league. We've got to go down there and regardless of our stress, regardless of our confidence, we've got to go play and we've got to do the best we can in practice tomorrow to see if we can get better."
McAdoo told reporters that there was a restlessness amongst the players, but that it was a good restlessness because everyone wants to win.
“I hate to lose,” McAdoo said. “I don’t really know what to do but come every day ready to work and get better. And don’t leave the results up to the other team, just impose my will and our will as a team.”
North Carolina’s will will be tested yet again on Saturday against a physical Florida State team, two days shy of the anniversary of the worst loss of the Williams era at UNC.
The 2011-12 Tar Heels used that embarrassing defeat as a springboard for a deep NCAA Tournament run. The current team needs to leave Tallahassee with a victory to turn around an ACC season that’s threatening to slip away less than a week into the schedule .
"This group of players has to do it," Marcus Paige said. "We don't have Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington walking through that door. We have to do it as a group."
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