CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The defensive commentary by North Carolina head coach Roy Williams and his players following Wednesday’s 83-68 win over Wake Forest suggested a weak link buoyed by arguably the nation’s top offense.
One particular statistic that irked Williams during his postgame press conference was that 14 of the Demon Deacon’s 17 second-half field goals were layups.
“I’m tired of those guys on TV talking about how good North Carolina is but their defense is not very good,” Williams said. “I’d like to get a plane and fly around the nation and say you’re exactly right, but I’m tired of listening to it.”
Harping on the layups is a valid point, one that illustrates the trouble this Tar Heel team has had in defending dribble penetration. The criticism, however, overlooks the fact that Wake Forest shot 40.3 percent from the floor, marking the sixth straight ACC game in which UNC has held its opponent below 43 percent shooting.
It took the 2008-09 national title team 11 ACC games to hold six opponents below 43 percent shooting.
UNC currently ranks fourth in ACC play in field goal percentage defense (41.1), trailing second-place Miami by seven thousandths of a percentage point. The Tar Heels held their six multi-bid conference opponents in nonconference play to 43.3 percent shooting, which indicates improvement since the start of ACC play.
Williams acknowledged that growth after win, telling reporters that he told his team earlier on Wednesday that they were improving defensively.
“Up to this point, I thought we were getting better and making strides,” senior guard Marcus Paige said. “We gave up a whole bunch of layups tonight, but I think with our offense, we get in the habit of trying to outscore teams. He talks about the 2009 team doing the same thing, but at some point we’ve got to turn it up because when we hit February and the schedule gets real every single night, we’ve just got to do better defensively.”
UNC leads the ACC in league play in steals (7.5) and ranks second in forced turnovers (14.3). Those stats are up from 6.9 steals and 13.7 forced turnovers during nonconference play.
Sophomore point guard Joel Berry noted that UNC’s inconsistency defensively in league action resides in strong starts and slow finishes, indicating the intensity wanes after halftime, thereby making it difficult to close out games. The Tar Heels are holding their ACC counterparts to 38.1 percent shooting in the first half compared to 43.9 percent in the second half.
N.C. State is the lone ACC team to shoot a lower percentage in the second half than in the first half against UNC.
“It’s been up and down,” sophomore wing Theo Pinson said. “We have really good stretches when we show that we can really lock down. I think that’s what Coach is a little frustrated about. We show really good glimpses of us being active and rotating, and then we have little stretches where we just let up in one place and it affects somebody else on their rotation.”
Pinson suggested the breakdowns were a combination of poor effort and mental lapses. The takeaway from the postgame interviews that neither coach nor the players are satisfied with their defensive performance despite the statistical success, which bodes well for improvement in the coming weeks.