For the third straight game, the North Carolina Tar Heels dropped a game to an opponent of which they have had long-term success. More of the same ugly themes were present last night against Clemson.
If it was gut check time against the Tigers, the Tar Heels are in the danger zone as the toughest portion of their schedule looms. Carolina needs a reset, and it needs to happen now.
Here are three things learned, or at least re-emphasized, in the 82-78 road loss versus Clemson.
This may not be something learned, but unfortunately it remains the Achilles heel of this Tar Heels team. It did not matter if you were tuned in to Jones and Eric or watching on television, the defense woes for Carolina on the perimeter were well-documented.
It was not until the 8:44 mark of the first half that Clemson scored on a shot other than a three pointer.
Out of the eight players that stepped on the court for the Tigers, only Elijah Thomas did not hit a three.
Is it a lack of effort? Is it fatigue from the players in the “small” lineup? Are there breakdowns in communication? Are the opponents stepping to a higher level of performance against the defending champions?
Coach Roy Williams said after the Clemson game he did not have any answers for the defensive struggles of this team.
If this is the worst defensive team Williams has ever coached, it is time to get back to basics. Effort and communication are the building blocks of good defense, and its past time for the Heels to dig deep.
Individual Highs and Team Lows
Cam Johnson scored a career high 32 points and Joel Berry II added 27 in the loss against Clemson. No other Tar Heel scored more than six, with Luke Maye tallying only four points.
Looking up and down the box scores in the past three games, this type of unbalanced scoring is a common theme. Career highs do not mean nearly as much when they are earned in a loss.
The good news is that there is not a reliance on a single player or two. With the exception of Kenny Williams, the other starters have been contributing at very high levels during certain games.
The lack of a strong and consistent inside presence is undoubtedly a major factor in the uneven offensive attack.
With the status of Theo Pinson unknown after last night’s injury, it is likely that a “traditional” lineup will be seen Saturday versus Pitt.
Perhaps this is the reset needed for the offense. In this scenario, Maye and Johnson return to their more natural positions, and Coach Williams will only use the “small” lineup if Pinson is available off the bench.
Joel Berry’s Fatigue
In the pregame interview with Coach Williams and Jones Angell, it was reported that in the wake of the Jalek Felton suspension, Pinson would handle backup point guard responsibilities.
After the Pinson injury, Berry played nearly the entire game. Berry did Berry things, especially in the second half and, along with Johnson, gave the Heels their best shot at victory.
Berry has been vocal about his fatigue in games recently, though he told reporters that he has been able to fight through it, and hopefully the break until the weekend allows him to reset physically after an apparent mental breakthrough against Clemson. However, the lack of depth that now exists at point guard is a major concern moving forward.