Call it an NC State hangover, call it sleepwalking through a noon Saturday tipoff, or call it a trap game. No matter what you call it, the Tar Heels were not good in any aspect of the game on Saturday. They fell behind early and never regained control of the game at any point in their 83-62 loss to Louisville.
Carolina managed to fight a bit toward the end of the first half, getting the lead down to nine before halftime. Unfortunately, they never found their way over that hump. They did manage to get the lead as low as seven at one point in the second half, but it was short-lived. Louisville shot the lights out for a good chunk of the first half of the game. To counter that, UNC was missing from all over the floor, particularly from three. The Cardinals were deadly from beyond the arc.
One of the most glaring areas of weakness was that Carolina simply had no answer for Steven Enoch down low. Garrison Brooks got himself into foul trouble again and Sterling Manley’s absence was obviously felt. Enoch finished the game with 17 points and 11 rebounds. On the other end of the floor, in both halves, it just seemed like there was a lid on the bucket for UNC.
For Carolina, Kenny Williams led the way with 12 points with only Cameron Johnson joining him in double figures with 10. If you needed more evidence of the importance of rebounding to Roy Williams’ teams, the Heels were out-rebounded by Louisville 40-31. Collectively, UNC shot 34% from the field and an atrocious 14% from three. They made just three of their 22 shots from beyond the arc.
It’s extremely frustrating to know that a team is capable of more than you see on any given day. The Tar Heels’ talent level does not match a 21-point loss to Louisville. In a league as competitive as the ACC, every loss feels even worse. Such a big loss on your home floor just adds salt to the wound.
An unfortunate trademark of this team so far this year has been the inability to get up off the mat after they get punched in the mouth. That’s the kind of resilience that is necessary in order to compete at the highest level, and the Heels simply haven’t shown that they have whatever it takes to dust themselves off and punch right back. As my colleague Jake Lawrence pointed out, the Heels are 1-4 this year in games they trailed by at least 10 points.
The lack of consistency is obviously frustrating, but these games seem to pop up every year early in conference play. That doesn’t make it any less infuriating to lose to a team you feel like you should beat, but it’s also far from the first time we’ve seen a talented UNC team drop a frustrating game only to recover just fine. Obviously we have to wait and see on that last part, but there is reason to believe that they can.
I feel okay saying we should burn the tape on this one because it feels almost impossible for UNC to play a game quite as badly as this one again. Not totally impossible, for sure, but unlikely at the very least. Nothing worked for them today and they simply had no answer for Louisville. Sometimes you have to tip your cap to a team that flat out out-plays you. If we have to have this same conversation again, though, it might be more of a concern. Here’s hoping it doesn’t happen.
UNC is back in action on Tuesday when they welcome Notre Dame to the Smith Center. Hopefully they can pick up their first home ACC win then.