We have reached the point of this basketball season when the word “turnover” has lost all meaning. Why, do you ask? It is because the North Carolina Tar Heels have made us mention the word so many times this season that quite frankly, it’d be understandable if fans have become numb to it. Tonight the Heels went into Littlejohn Coliseum and had a performance reminiscent of the one against Florida State, but this game was different. This game was against a team they quite frankly didn’t have a whole lot of business losing to, yet here we are.
Does it sound like I’m being harsh when referring to the quality of a loss to the Tigers? Let’s do a compare and contrast exercise: Florida State shot at a 48% clip against the Heels. Clemson made 40% of their shots. Florida State shot 27 free throws and made 26 of said attempts. The Tigers only got to shoot 12 at the line and made nine. Finally, and this is important: Florida State out-rebounded UNC by one while Clemson were 10 rebounds in the hole against the Heels. This game was somehow the same in that the Heels had a chance to pull the rug from under Clemson’s feet when they were within four, and yet the narrative behind why they failed to do so is quite different.
To get the worst part out of the way, it was clear that having a week off ruined any kind of chemistry that the Tar Heels had. Players committed traveling violations, passed the ball to nobody, committed offensive fouls, and traveled maybe about five or six more times. Unofficially the broadcaster for this game said that about 11 turnovers committed by the Tar Heels were unforced. This goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: that is not winning basketball.
The second big issue in this game was the lack of involvement that we saw from Armando Bacot. He finished this game with one point, three rebounds, and four fouls. After his monster performance last week and his consistently good play through most of the season, fans and media all pondered out loud if Bacot was this team’s best player. I personally still think that it is true, which is why it’s difficult to expect a team to come away with a win if your best player only scores one point and doesn’t even crack five rebounds as a big. If we see Bacot disappear in Saturday’s game against Duke, I can’t see any possible way that things will end happily.
Finally, Let’s talk about the free throw situation. For those who didn’t watch the game, hearing that Clemson gifted the Tar Heels 21 free throws would suggest that UNC likely either squeaked out a win, won by a lot, or barely lost. However, the team only made 52% of their free throw attempts, with Day’Ron Sharpe attempting (and missing) the majority of them. 10 more made free throws gives the Heels a chance to win this game. Taking away Clemson’s 13 points off of turnovers gives UNC an even better chance to win. Finally, Armando Bacot giving his team even half of his 12.6 points per game average makes this a convincing win. To put it bluntly: Roy Williams has his work cut out for him prior to Saturday’s prime time matchup against the Blue Devils.
If there is any silver lining to be found, it is that Day’Ron Sharpe had a pretty good game, free throws and turnovers aside. He finished with 16 points and 8 rebounds, which was impressive considering the fact that Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot struggled so much. His length and athleticism has been huge for the Tar Heels this season, and his poise has been impressive for a freshman. He obviously isn’t without his mistakes — as indicated by his three turnovers — but rarely has he been a negative when he steps on the court.
Overall, I haven’t decided if this tape needs to be burned or if it needs to be played on repeat over the next few days. It’s hard to feel like Clemson did that good of a job beating UNC when the Heels did such a pristine job beating themselves. It’ll be very interesting to see which Carolina team shows up to Cameron Indoor Stadium, because if this team is the one that gets off of the bus, this might be the start of a painful, depressing month of February.