A team depends on its starters. They set the tenor of the game from the opening tip; they have a gameplan to execute, and they're the most talented players on the team. It's their job to be prepared from the moment the whistle blows. Sure, occasionally you'll need a bench player to bail them out when the other team has their number, or the rhythm is off and they need a moment to regroup. But for the most part, these are the guys you win the game with.
For the second straight game, the entire UNC starting lineup was pulled before the first TV timeout.
It only went downhill from there. After Kendal Marshall led the second team back from an 8-1 deficit to tie it 10 apiece, the starters came right back and dug another ten point hole. At the half, the starting five had scored a total of 16 points – the same total Iman Shumpert had managed on his own.
But there's the second half, right? UNC has recovered from their last two slow starts, refocusing on defense and slowly clawing their way back while their opponents exhaust themselves. Not this time. Carolina came out just as discombobulated, with the starters turning a one-point halftime deficit into an immediate nine-point debacle. The Heels would never come closer than they did at halftime, and never led the entire game. This a team immensely more talented than the Yellow Jackets. They were simply outplayed, outhustled, outfought, and embarrassed.
Glen Rice, Jr. had a good game though, didn't he? 24 points, including 4 of 7 from behind the arc, when Leslie McDonald was the only other player on the court to hit more than a single three. Rice also had a pair of Tech's 13 (!) steals, and combined with Shumpert in the backcourt to almost outscore UNC's entire team. Freshman Daniel Miller impressed, outrebounding and generally manhandling Tyler Zeller, who was pretty much a non-factor for most of the game. Brian Oliver, despite a poor shooting night, also outrebounded every member of the Heels' frontcourt and generally wrested the ball away from Carolina at every opportunity.
I'm trying to think of something good to say about this team. The free throw shooting was better than usual – the team shot 75%, and even Henson was 5 of 8 – and the defensive traps at midcourt and their full press were well done, if undercut by UNC's abysmal offense. Other than that, everything was crap. Larry Drew, with his starting job challenged and his dad in the audience for a rare chance to see him, played like, well, he's been playing of late. Marshall was better, but still out of control, and had the game slip away from him with two straight turnovers right when UNC had their last chance to make a play for the game. Of course, it wouldn't have even been a problem if Carolina had made the eight layups and four tip-ins the team missed in the game. That's twenty-four points right there; if anyone has an explanation for how a team could shoot that badly from two feet away, I'd love to hear it.
I'm not sure there's a player on this team I didn't want to see benched at some point in this game. And I got my wish. Everybody was yanked at some point, and Roy Williams tried more variations on a lineup than I've seen all season, at one point playing both Marshall and Drew. Nothing helped. This was a disaster; the team now has an incredibly short turn around before defending the streak in Chapel Hill against Clemson. I see no evidence right now that this team won't flail just as badly again.