Playing without Ed Davis, coming off two straight losses and completely demoralized, the Heels buckled down and played better ball than we've seen all calendar year. They kept the turnovers in single digits for the first time since the Presbyterian game, and eliminated the steal-in-the-backcourt problem that had plagued them the last two games. The Wear brothers, in their most extended playing time this season, rose to the occasion, and there were fewer defensive lapses. Unfortunately, the team shot horribly, and Wake Forest hit everything they tossed up. That'll lose you a basketball game pretty quickly.
Most of the coverage will probably focus on Ishmael Smith, who had 20 points, to go with his 7 rebounds and 6 assists. To make it more impressive, four of his nine shots came on fast breaks after made Carolina baskets. But one guy wouldn't beat the Heels; it was a full team effort. When it came time to pull away, the Demon Deacons had two three point threats in freshmen C.J. Harris and Ari Stewart, who combined for 7 of 11 from behind the arc. Some of those were open shots from perimeter screens, but a lot of them were hand-in-the-face, no-business-falling shots that kept finding the bottom of the net. Combine that with UNC's own poor shooting (36.6%, 23.1% from behind the arc) and the fact that most of those misses found their ways into the hands of Al-Farouq Aminu and Chas McFarland, and Carolina gets another loss.
There were signs of life, however. The Wear brothers played well. The interior defense was stronger than we've seen yet this season, holding Wake's big men to 8 of 17 shooting. The rebounding could still use some work, but without Davis and Zeller, they weren't the pushovers inside I was expecting. On a more observational aspect, if anything the team was too hesitant on offense. They played as if their propensity for mistakes had caused them to seize up, especially Drew, who drove often and shot rarely. That being said, there was no sense of dejection or shellshocked faces like the last couple of games brought. The team was undermanned and unexperienced, but there was heart I've haven't seen much this season. It's hard to come away from a thirteen point loss – and only a buzzer-beating three from Drew made it that close – and come away feeling optimistic, but I actually am.
Of course, State is next. If UNC can't turn it around there, I'll never hear the end of it.