CORAL GABLES, Fla. – When March rolls around and North Carolina is preparing for its postseason run, Saturday’s loss to Miami will likely be an afterthought to most observers. A tough ACC road loss, one of many by the league’s top teams, in the middle of a dastardly mid-season stretch.
How this loss transpired makes it even more acceptable to dismiss and move quickly to Tuesday’s game against Pittsburgh. The Tar Heels, one of the nation’s top offensive teams, shot 20.7 percent in the first half, the second-worst shooting percentage in a half under Roy Williams, and missed 21-of-22 field goals during an abysmal 15-minute period. UNC, also the nation’s top rebounding team, was outrebounded for just the second time this season (41-36).
There’s also the searing hot Miami run that netted 20 points in eight possessions and turned an 11-2 deficit into a 22-16 lead in less than five minutes.
“There’s not a lot to say,” Williams told reporters after the 77-62 loss. “It was a big-time kicking of our rear ends, is what it was.”
All of which are rarities that fall far short of a trend and are unlikely to happen again in the second half of conference play. Despite that understanding, the Tar Heels refused to lean on the built-in excuse that comes with a three-game-in-six-day stretch. The arc of a season includes such poor performances to refocus players on the minutiae in play, that miscellany that is easily overlooked during, say, a seven-game ACC winning streak.
“We’ve got to know that every team is going to come to play,” junior guard Joel Berry said. “We can’t just go out there and think we’re North Carolina and they’re going to let down to us. We’ve just got to make sure we learn from it. It’s a learning lesson. We’re just not going to look past this. If we want to get back to where we want to be, we’ve got to go out and try to compete every single game.”
Williams, in his standard approach, detailed the specifics of this particular loss instead of looking beyond. The 14th-year head coach harped on his team’s poor play against Miami’s zone, a failure by the bigs to establish position against the aggressive Hurricanes and a failure by his perimeter players to attack the scheme to get the ball inside. He criticized sloppy turnovers at the end of the half and the unwillingness of a player to dive after a loose ball after halftime.
Senior center Kennedy Meeks offered a broader perspective, highlighting the primary reason those aforementioned breakdowns occurred.
“We have to do a way better job of listening to what he asks of us,” Meeks said. “Nobody that I know, or have known, wants to win more than him. We just really lacked the listening part today. It’s unfortunate, but at the same time, Coach said this is one of the best ways to have a teaching moment. I think the guys already realize that we can’t come out and play the way we played today.”
Senior guard Nate Britt, one of the many veterans on this UNC squad, also dismissed the possibility of leaving this loss in South Florida without so much as a secondary glance.
“I think you look deeper in this game,” Britt said. “It was a combination of us not playing well and our want-to not being where it needed to be. We needed everyone to be locked in today. We need that every game in conference play. Coach tells us before each and every game, ‘this game is another important game, so you’ve got to get up for this game.’ I think we didn’t have everyone doing that today and we have to have that on a consistent basis for us to be good.”
Williams told reporters last week he only had to remind his players of their loss at Georgia Tech that each and every conference game is a dogfight. After winning seven straight and moving into first place in the ACC standings, he now has an additional game to add to his locker room whiteboard.
“It’s not like this loss counts as 20,” Meeks said. “We’ve got a lot more season left. We’ve got a lot more opportunities to get better.”