The Heels returned to action last night against the Wofford Terriers. Much was made of the Terriers’ own Fletcher Magee and his 58% success rate from three. The Heels actually did an admirable job on Magee and the Terriers, holding them to 7-22 shooting from three. Unfortunately, they didn’t play much defense inside the arc and they lost for the second time this season. What else did we learn?
Cam Johnson was medically cleared to return to game action after a knee injury delayed his first game as a Tar Heel. He immediately made his presence felt with two points, two rebounds, a steal, and an assist in his first six minutes on the court.
When Johnson entered the game, the Heels trailed by six points. When he returned to the bench, UNC held a five point lead. The Heels were +13 in Cam Johnson’s 17 minutes. Not bad for his game action since last year’s ACC tournament.
Perhaps more importantly, his appearance in the rotation didn’t seem to disrupt any chemistry that has been developed so far. If anything, it was an indication that the small-ball lineup of Berry, Williams, Johnson, Pinson, and Maye will be an enticing option in the ACC. As a transfer, the junior is still an unknown quantity and it’s fair to expect some hiccups as he finds his niche. Last night, though, there weren’t any noticeable issues related to Cam’s addition to the lineup.
It was the most encouraging development of the night.
This team seemingly struggles with giving the opposition free possessions. The Heels finished with 14 turnovers (eight in the first half). It’s been a recurring theme this season. The ball perimeter rotation of Pinson/Berry/Felton combined for 11 - a departure from earlier games when the young big men were usually to blame.
Entering last night, the Heels were 133rd in the country with 146 total turnovers, averaging 13.2 per game. Against Western Carolina, Tennessee, and Wofford they’ve committed 17, 16, and 14. That’s a noticeable uptick. Wofford’s slow pace (Adjusted Tempo of 65.3 possessions per game) makes those 14 turnovers feel more like 20.
One might make the argument that UNC’s frenetic style of play means they are likely to have more possessions, so naturally they would commit more turnovers. That would be a valid point if their TO% (turnover percentage) wasn’t 17.6, which clocks in at 96th in the country. This is a metric that determines how many turnovers a team would commit per 100 possessions. For reference, last season’s National Champions had a TO% of 16.2 which was 39th in the nation. The year prior, it was even lower at 15.4. That’s a significant difference.
With ACC competition lurking next week, possessions will be at a premium. Better ball security will take on greater importance.
Before last night the fewest two-point shots the Heels had attempted was 43. They were averaging 47 two point attempts per game. Against the Terriers they attempted just 30. Luke Maye and Joel Berry accounted for 18 of those attempts. That’s...not optimal. The lack of movement and penetration was disheartening.
- Kenny Williams scored his last points, a jumper, with 16:05 left in the game.
- Cam Johnson scored his only field goal, a three, with 14:21 remaining
- Theo Pinson’s only field goal attempt a desperation three point attempt.
- Garrison Brooks didn’t score a field goal in the final 18:39
- Nobody other than Berry and Maye made a field goal in the final 14:21. That’s not a typo.
The Terriers deserve credit in dictating the tempo, and thus reducing the opportunities for the Heels. The aforementioned turnovers were another culprit. However, the UNC big men also struggled against junior forward Cameron Jackson, who finished with 18 points, 9 rebounds, 6 blocks, and three steals. As a team, the Terriers made 50% (21 for 42)of their two point attempts.
The Tar Heel interior was likely to see uneven performances, and last night they once again were pushed around by a more experienced foe. Despite his double-double of 17 and 14, Maye was an unimpressive 2-10 from inside the arc. The combined 14 points and 7 rebounds by the freshmen trio were an unexpected letdown for a squad that had been the surprise of the season.
The Heels hadn’t lost at home since February of 2016, when the visiting Blue Devils came to town. It’s a frustrating feeling, but ultimately UNC will be better for this. They always are. Whether they were tired after Sunday’s win at Tennessee, or they didn’t respect the “Wofford” on the visitor’s jerseys, they will learn that there is no such thing as a night off.
Especially in the ACC.