Navigating the Turbulent Waters

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Roy Williams' high-octane offensive system requires extreme precision at the point guard position, something that Ty Lawson has excelled at during his three seasons at North Carolina. But while praise follows the junior in victory, heated criticism saturates him after a disappointing loss.

When Lawson walked off the Ford Field court on Dec. 3, he had effectively outdueled Michigan State's talented Kalin Lucas, posting a ridiculous stat line of 17 points, eight assists, seven steals and zero turnovers. That performance concluded a five-game stretch in which the Clinton, Md. product averaged 17.4 points, 7.6 assists, 3.2 steals and just 0.6 turnovers per contest.

If you're counting at home, that's a 12.7-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Statistics like that lead media members to whisper about national player of the year possibilities and undefeated seasons.

But the accolades that surrounded Lawson just six weeks ago have seemingly vanished, following mediocre displays in No. 5 North Carolina's first two ACC outings of the season. Unfortunately for Lawson, both games resulted in losses for the Tar Heels, and to make matters even worse, his individual defensive assignments were dominant in victory.

Tyrese Rice scored 25 points to lead Boston College to a stunning upset over North Carolina on Jan. 4, while Wake Forest's Jeff Teague posted a career-high 34 points in Sunday's win in Winston-Salem. Lawson, on the other hand, scored a total of 19 points, and dished out nine assists while coughing up eight turnovers.

"It's tough – I've heard everybody saying that we go as far as I go, and things like that," Lawson told reporters on Friday. "That's a lot of pressure. I want to be one of the leaders on this team [and] I'm trying to be a leader on this team, so it just goes with the game. When we're winning, we're winning and things are good. When we're losing, everybody wants to point fingers, but I'll take the blame. I know I didn't play well in both games."

But UNC head coach Roy Williams is not as willing to place the blame of those conference losses at his point guard's feet.

"Everybody acted like he was the best thing since sliced bread and the best point guard in the world through 14 games, and then everybody acted like he had some kind of disease after those two [losses]…" Williams said. "Ty's play against Tyrese Rice is not the reason that we lost to Boston College. Ty's play against Jeff Teague is not the reason we lost to Wake Forest. It was North Carolina's play against those guys. If we're going to give him blame for those two losses, then let's give him credit for a lot of those wins."

Lawson indicated that while he doesn't feel as though his game has changed since that early season tear – and the evidence backs that up with a 19-point, nine-assist, zero-turnover night against Virginia on Thursday – but admits that the way he starts a game can foreshadow how he finishes it.

Lawson missed two early layups in the Boston College debacle, and then committed two turnovers in the opening 149 seconds of play against No. 2 Wake Forest. But he insists that he doesn't press when an opponent is lighting up the scoreboard, instead focusing on staying level-headed and working through the adversity.

"I just keep playing my game," said Lawson, who's averaging 15.1 points and 6.6 assists per game on the season. "It doesn't make me think that I have to score more because they're scoring more. My success is based on if we win or not. I like to win. I feel like my job is accomplished when we win a game, not by how many points I score."

It's easy to look at Lawson's assists and turnovers in the two losses, and then quickly draw parallels to the fact that North Carolina shot a combined 28.8 percent (23-of-80) in the second halves of those contests. But that conclusion is lacking in depth, failing to consider the significant number of ill-advised field goal attempts that the Tar Heels took down the stretch.

"I felt like I was still doing the same thing in getting people shots, but the other teams also knew what we wanted to do," Lawson said. "They scouted us real well, so we didn't get the normal shots that we usually got."

His head coach suggests the emotionally-charged blame game simply comes with the territory.

"It's sort of like the quarterback or the head coach – you get too much credit and too much blame when you're the point guard," Williams said. "He's done some really good things. I thought [against Virginia] he was really, really good. No one man is going to say, ‘I'm going to take care of Ty Lawson,' and Ty Lawson is not going to take care of one man on the other team if he's good."

Those dreaded checks in the loss column can serve as a blinding light for fans at times, making it easy to overlook the cold hard facts that rank Lawson fourth nationally and first in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.0). There's no doubt that the junior point guard drives this sleek Tar Heel ship, but even he's not quite skilled enough to sink it all on his own.

Inside Carolina Top Stories