Raymond Felton – Felton scored double figures only three times in his first nine games. He has at least 10 points in each of his last nine, and is becoming the player so many fans and pundits expected before the season started. It took him some time to adjust to the responsibility of running a major college offense, but now he does that well and has stepped up his scoring. He finished with 28 points on an amazing 8-12 3-point shooting. He also had five assists, but six turnovers. Yet as is always the case, some of his turnovers are at least as much the responsibility of a teammate. It's just a matter of time before Felton is a great player.
Jackie Manuel – Manuel had perhaps his best game as a Tar Heel. Offensively he was aggressive in taking it to the hole, and finished with 14 points. He did a better job of holding onto the ball and made sound decisions. He was an impressive 9-10 from the free throw line, and forced State to acknowledge him, which may have added a few more open Js for Felton. Manuel had not performed well in recent games, so this effort couldn't have come at a better time. On defense, his play can best be understood by this fact: when he was whistled for his fourth foul the score was tied at 45 with 15:21 left in the game. Only 3:11 later State had a 58-50 lead.
Will Johnson – Johnson was huge in the first half scoring six points and helping to keep the Heels close. Interestingly, he got the first technical of his career just minutes after Jonathan Holmes was whistled for clearing out State's Josh Powell in the lane. Bet that never happens again.
Rebounding – Carolina outrebounded State 38-27, limiting the Wolfpack to only five offensive rebounds. That is partly due to State's red-hot shooting, but mostly because UNC was aggressive on the glass and boxed out pretty well. And consider they did this playing a smaller lineup – 6-foot-6 David Noel started instead of 6-foot-9 Byron Sanders, that's a nice accomplishment.
Still close – Despite State's torrid shooting, Manuel's foul trouble, and Jawad Williams' three points, Carolina still had a chance to win late, trailing 66-64 with four minutes left. Once again there are obvious reasons why the Heels lost, yet slightly improved play in a few areas would have been the difference. The Heels always play hard and don't ever quit. While there are areas of concern, one reason a solid foundation is being built is the team's desire and intensity.
Matt Doherty – Blame Doherty and his staff for a few of the team's shortcomings (offensive efficiency, lack of structured offense), but also credit them for the team's usually excellent defense and for their fight and grit. They were close to State because of pride and playing at maximum effort, something attributable to coaching.
Rashad McCants – It wouldn't be fair to overlook McCants' first double-double of his career and that he darn near did enough in less than one half to get Carolina a win. One can argue many of his points didn't really matter, but one can also make the point that without his offensive explosion in the last 12 minutes UNC would have been blown out.
Quality shots – Carolina's offensive flow was pretty good over the first eight minutes or so. They moved well without the ball, passed quickly and crisply, and got some quality looks. But they resorted too often to their usual ways: little cutting, very little screening (especially away from the ball), few backdoor cuts, and way too much dribbling. And of course, not enough set plays. State hit a lot of contested shots, which ultimately was the difference. But if Carolina was able to spring Rashad McCants (three first-half points) for a few more looks, and even get Williams (three total points, none in the first half) some in some baseline situations both could have produced more and UNC may have pulled it out.
Defense – State hit a bunch of tough well-defended shots. But the bottom line is that allowing a team to shoot 52.2 percent from 3-point range and 48.1% for the game means it wasn't all the Wolfpack making difficult shots. There were some easy ones no doubt. UNC went to a quicker lineup, which somewhat worked, but still allowed too many cuts to the basket, many of which led to layups.
3-point shooting – Other than Felton's 8-12 performance, the Heels were 4-20 from beyond the arc. Considering UNC's lack of an inside game, this clearly won't cut it.
Jawad Williams – Williams said he won't have days like Sunday very often, which would be good for UNC. He finished with three points (1-9 from the field), and just five rebounds. It wasn't that he played so poorly, his shot just didn't fall. He got some nice looks, a few he created on his own, but they just didn't go down.
Melvin Scott – Scott is considered by many as "instant offense" for the Tar Heels, but he has been anything but that. He's scored in double figures just once (15 points against Davidson) and is only 3-20 from the field (2-13 from 3-point range) in UNC's last four games. For the season the Baltimore sophomore is averaging just five points per game and shooting 33.7 from the floor, including 34.4% from beyond the arc. In the last "G&B" it was suggested Scott might need to play more in order to shoot better. It can also go the other way around: maybe he should shoot more accurately if he is to warrant more playing time. On Sunday he was 0-3 from the field and 0-2 from the charity stripe.
7th loss – UNC now has seven losses on the season, all but assuring they will lose at least ten games for the fourth time in five years. Dean Smith went from 1966-1989 without losing double-digit number of games. Since, Carolina has lost at least 10 games six times: 13 in 1990-91, 10 in 1991-92, 11 in 1995-96, 10 in 1998-99, 14 in 1999-2000, and 20 last season. This year would make it seven.
It also means the Heels can't afford to lose more than six more games unless they capture the ACC tournament. More than 13 losses will likely bound them for the NIT.
The Tar Heels hit the road again with a game at Georgia Tech on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. on ESPN. UNC's next three games are at Tech, at home against Wake Forest, and at Duke. Thus, this is clearly a crucial game, maybe the most important of the season.
Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He also covers the ACC for the Wilmington Star-News/Morning Star and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.