This was a three point game at one point in the second half. No, really. Carolina had battled back from ten down at half to twice cut it to three, the last time with a Will Graves two with 14:34 remaining. They had the momentum, and they had the crowd out of it.
And then they proceeded to make six shots from the field the rest of the game.
There's been two constants in UNC conference play this season. First, they'll fall behind early. That's a given. Most of the time they'll fight back though, which brings us to the second constant. UNC will get within spitting distance in the second half, give up one bad play, and then just absolutely panic. You can see it on their faces, the moment they go from "coached by Roy Wiliams" to "haven't played a game of organized basketball in their life." The tempo goes from fast to breackneck, the passes either stop all together or are flung wildly without any idea if they'll be caught, and the shots will be either drives in triple teams or long threes will a defender in their lap. The other team starts getting fast breaks, the panic deepens, and the next thing you know it's a twenty-one point loss.
At least this game was something you could have expected to happen at the season's start. When panic set in, it was mostly freshmen on the floor. Marcus Ginyard and Deon Thompson, on the bench at the time, both played like seniors, with 17 and 16 points respectively, and Ed Davis had another double-double despite a pretty poor performance that had him benched occasionally for poor defense. With this team you can never say anyone has turned a corner – Virginia heroes Henson and David Wear combined for 6 points and 2 rebounds tonight – but Ginyard had his best game since the December injury. Henson had a good defensive stretch as well, and was key in getting UNC back within three.
But the Maryland big men stepped it up late, holding the Heels to a single offensive rebound over a nine minute stretch where the lead went from 5 to 23; they also pushed the UNC post men out almost to the free throw line, giving them no chance to get a close bucket. Vasquez even dished the ball more than he had this entire calendar year, racking up 11 assists and spreading the wealth around to a team that shot 51.5% from the field.
So now the Heels get to dig out of the snow, plug their phones back in, and shuffle back home to meet Duke in three days. I've given up looking for signs of life in this team and just treat every game as it's own separate season. I just wish so many of them weren't 0-1 losing seasons, though.