This is getting eeriely familiar. UNC falls behind early to a team with good rebounding and a hot hand from behind the arc. Sometimes they fight back in the second half (today, and against Virginia Tech) and sometimes they don't (Clemson). Today the comeback wasn't good enough, as Carolina left the court with their third loss in the last four games.
Let's look at what went well. UNC shut down Tech's big freshmen players, keeping Derrick Favors on the bench in foul trouble for most of the game and rendering Mfon Udofia a nonfactor; Drew and Strickland both had good defense on the point guard throughout the game. The second half defense on a whole was good as well, keeping the ball out of the hot hands of Iman Shumpert and Gani Lawal, and towards Zach Peacock, who despite his late game heroics was 3-10 from the field. The Heels also adjusted and limited their turnovers to six in the second half. It's amazing how much easier it is to make a comeback when you can score on consecutive possessions.
And then there was the engine of that comeback, Will Graves. Graves' utility to the team is... hotly contested, to say the least, but today he was behind every big basket, scoring a career high 24 points, fifteen of which came from behind the arc. He also had seven rebounds, most in the second half, and there wasn't a play during the comeback where he was beginning or ending the possession. I'm still not sold on how smart a lot of those shots were, most of which came from well behind the arc with a hand in his face, but without him, this game could have slipped into another Clemson debacle.
As for the bad? Nothing you haven't seen before. The first half turnovers were abysmal, and the UNC rebounding advantage of team's past is still absent. Teams shouldn't be able to shoot 43.1% from the field and beat Caroina, but they can when they pull down as many offensive rebounds as the Yellow Jackets did. Lawal pulled down four, typically from a crowd of blue jerseys, but more often there were tips out to Shumpert and Udofia for the opportunity to reset the offense. Shumpert of course, spent the first half going off, scoring 17 of his career-high 30 points and making a mockery out of Marcus Ginyard.
In fact, I was surprised to see Ginyard had 27 minutes of playing time, compared to Leslie McDonald's 14 and Stricklands 10. He was a non-entity for most of the game, not scoring until 2:45 to play and rarely showng up in any category of the box score. I'll also be curious to hear Williams' thoughts on Drew's late-game drive to the basket and miss; it came pretty early in the shot clock and left the Heels so out of position that Tech drained a good ten seconds before drawing the foul. The team is still playing out of control, taking bad shots and acting generally out-of-sync. I'm not really sure how Williams can fix it.
If nothing else, I hope this game will end the meme of UNC being a different team at home and away. While I'm sure the crowd helped in stretches today, it's the same team. It's just the opponents, with the exception of Michigan State in December, aren't the same quality. Now that good teams are coming to Chapel Hill – and Tech was, don't forget, ranked, and will remain so – that home/away split will soon fade. Hopefully because of wins on the road, not losses in the Dean Dome.