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If I told you I saw this UNC loss coming I would be fibbing to you. But that is what happened last night as #12 North Carolina (2-1) lost to Belmont (3-1) 83 to 80 for the 400th game at the Dean Dome. How did it happen? It’s a formula that many teams going up against better programs use… good outside shooting, hitting the shots when they are needed and holding on when the stronger team comes storming back.
Of course missing 26 free throws, as Carolina did by going 22 for 48 in the game, had a lot to do with it as well.
On the offensive side it was once again James McAdoo (a career high 27 points & 13 rebounds) in his tenth double double of his career, Marcus Paige (17 points, 5 assists & 5 TOs) and Brice Johnson (14 points & 9 rebounds), for his third game in a row in double digit scoring, as the go to guys in this one. However the sophomore shooting guard was not quite the aggressive player he was against Holy Cross.
Like Friday’s game, the Tar Heels started off slow… very slow. Letting not only the visitors stay in the game, but actually trailing from about the 15 minute mark until half time, when Drew Windler made a very contested three point shot, which the Belmont player had to double clutch before shooting. With that score the Bruins were up by 41 to 34.
That margin would extend to 11 points as the second half began.
Finally, by going down low, with a new sprint in their step, Carolina cut the lead down, until all of a sudden they were ahead once again in this one. Taking that lead to eight points, but meanwhile two things still were not happening. UNC was not hitting their free throws and Belmont was not backing down.
The game went back and forth for a while, still in the Heels’ favor, and then came the part of the game most of the UNC fans will focus on… the last couple of minutes.
Yes, Belmont hit three after three in the last 120 seconds, while Carolina made a lot of errors in that same time frame, however the reality to this game is simple and yet complex. The last 2 minutes of this game would not have mattered any if the Heels had hit 1/3 of the missed free throws. That alone would have given head coach Roy Williams’ team a five point win had everything else been the same.
Yes, the Bruins shot lights out from beyond the arc, on the other side while plenty were open ones, the visitors hit several that were not so wide open.
Yes the same player hit three three’s in a row to give the visiting team the lead. But it was the same player that gone 2 for 11 from beyond the arc until then.
Sure, as coach Williams said …
“I did a poor job coaching. It’s on me,” Williams said. “I’ve always had the philosophy that if the other team scores to take the lead, if it’s more than seven seconds, we don’t call a timeout. We attack right then because we’ve got the ball in the open court.”
“We didn’t execute at that point, and that’s my fault. I was proud of the way they came back against a very good team, but we dug ourselves in a hole by mistakes and missed free throws. Then we made a really, really nice comeback but I didn’t do the job done the stretch.”
…but on the other hand, if you watched the game, the coach had not looked well on the sidelines a couple of minutes before.
Would this game be a loss had P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald been in the game? Probably not. But they, nor the coaching staff, miss all those free throws.
Maybe we should also think about a couple of other players that are missing from the roster. Kendall Marshall is out of the NBA right now and Reggie Bullock is basically getting mop up time and will probably have to go to the NBDL if he wants to get playing time. That could easily be your starting back court right now.
Lastly, winning a game against Belmont by 2-3 points might not be up to what some of the fans may want, as it is not to “Carolina standards”. On the other hand, take any other program and take out two of their starting players and probably it’s best scorer and then compare it to this team. You might have a lot more top notch squads falling to mid majors than you would think.
However, right now we have to deal with what we have. Could North Carolina still be undefeated? Sure, and on most nights it would have been. But last night, with the other team hitting as many trifectas in one game as they had in the first three games, it was not meant to be. Now the team needs to refocus and prepare for the rest of the season, starting with Richmond next Saturday.