CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Several days of poor practices foretold an inconsistent performance by No. 2 North Carolina, which won handily against an overmatched Wake Forest team despite shooting woes and defensive breakdowns.
After building a 46-30 lead at halftime by forcing 12 turnovers and holding the Demon Deacons to 33.3 percent shooting, UNC (17-2, 6-0 ACC) failed in its ability to send it its longtime rival back down Tobacco Road with a demoralizing defeat. Instead, the Tar Heels shot 26.5 percent after halftime, the worst percentage in a half this season and the fourth-lowest by a UNC team in the Smith Center’s 30-year history, and allowed 14 layups on the defensive end.
Roy Williams vented about his team not practicing well this week during his postgame comments, suggesting that the carryover from practice court to live game action served as confirmation from a coaching perspective.
“Anybody that's ever breathed and walked a step could have watched us in practice this week because we did nothing good,” Williams said. “Some way, somehow we've got to get better habits in practice, better effort in practice. Monday at practice I got mad at them at the end and we decided to see if any of us qualify for the track team. Didn't make me feel any better, either. It's pretty easy when you watched us practice this week how bad we were in practice.”
Senior guard Marcus Paige, who missed seven of his eight field goal attempts and scored a season-low two points, detailed the breakdown that turned Monday’s practice down a disconcerting path.
“A couple of days ago we had an okay practice and then kept messing this drill up over and over again and we had to run a bunch,” Paige said. “That kind of got in our heads and then the next day we didn’t have a great practice. And tonight, we didn’t play great. Our offense was pretty stagnant. Brice [Johnson] played well; he might have been the only one that played well. We shot 20-something percent and gave up  layups in the second half, so I think that’s a result of our last couple of practices.”
Johnson, who led UNC with 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting, said a combination of turning the ball over in offensive sets while failing to get to the right spot defensively is what ultimately set his Hall of Fame coach off in practice.
“We ended up on the end line and we were just running for awhile,” Johnson said. “… It got ugly.”
Ugly in the form of “79s,” which requires a player to sprint the length of the court and back seven times in 79 seconds. Paige told reporters he had not seen one of those sprint punishments until this week, noting that junior guard Nate Britt was able to complete the task.
The byproduct of those practices was evident in the postgame interviews as none of the players appeared pleased with their 10th-straight victory, although winning handily despite not playing their best yet again speaks to this team’s potential.
“I think we’ll be okay,” Paige said. “It happens. It’s a long season. It’s a very long season. You can’t be perfect every day.”