Basketball in its purest form is a beautiful game. People around the world are drawn to it because of its movement, athleticism, agility, and skill displayed by some of the best athletes in the world. That beauty goes to die in Clemson, SC. When you throw in two halves of basketball reffed in extreme opposite fashions, and a UNC team incapable of playing 40 minutes of intelligent basketball, you get last night’s ten-car pileup.
Here are three things learned from a win that the Tar Heels maybe didn’t deserve, but will gladly take.
Bench roles expanding
Hubert Davis threw a curveball with his bench rotation yesterday. Puff Johnson had been seeing a steady increase in minutes over the past few weeks, making four-minute cameos against Virginia Tech and Boston College when Carolina had three games stuffed into six days, and then exploding for 17 minutes (and eight points!) against NC State, before falling back down to 10 minutes at Louisville, and just eight against Duke. Last night, he only came in for the final inbound play as time expired.
Instead, Kerwin Walton started getting into the groove again. He confidently hit his opening three-point attempt of the game, and calmly sunk a midrange jumper after going behind the back to sink his defender. Walton finished the game with seven big points.
More interesting than that was the first half appearance by Dontrez Styles. The Kinston freshman came on for the final four minutes of the first half and was active defensively. Styles snagged two rebounds and had a +/- of +8, tied with Walton for highest on the team. He was part of a 12-4 run to help close out the first half. UNC did not run any offense through Styles, but if he can find some more minutes when Carolina has a comfortable lead, he might be able to show out during his freshman season.
Give her what she wants!
For those enjoying the ACC Network broadcast, you couldn’t help but hear one particular Carolina fan imploring the Tar Heels to get after it on defense. Who was that lady? Well, according to reliable sources, it was Leaky Black’s mom!
Her cries could be heard throughout the game, she did not stop! But in the second half, UNC did not listen. Clemson shot 55.6% from the field in the second half (41.7% from three!) and in a brutal parade at the free throw line, hit 17-19. That’s a lot. We’ll get to that later.
Clemson presents ball screens in an odd way. I compare it to Wake Forest’s delayed hand-offs in football. It unsettles the defender and causes them to hesitate and delay action.
Further calamities were caused by Carolina’s lack of emotional discipline. The Heels were whistled for two flagrant-1 fouls and a technical after a made basket. Brady Manek’s flagrant was the most forgivable—it was a tough foul while the shooter was in the air. Armando Bacot’s face-push (not a slap) was less so. RJ Davis got a tech after he hit a tough lay-up through contact, and apparently the ref was not impressed when Davis called for an “And-1.” Clemson hit all six free throws that resulted from these three “bonus” fouls.
Carolina simply must do a better job of defending (without fouling!) going forward. For Tar Heel dreams to come true, UNC needs to win out the rest of the ACC schedule, and to beat Duke in Cameron, they’ll have to play a perfect game and pray for seven consecutive miracles. Last night’s defense won’t cut it.
ACC refs - Worst in the world
I was baffled at how much contact was being allowed in the first half. Clemson defenders bumped Caleb Love and RJ Davis when they advanced the ball, Armando Bacot was being draped, Tiger arms were extended on drives, etc. It appeared that we were going to have an early tip-off of old school Big East basketball.
That changed as soon as the second half started. In a bid to get some of the physical play (which led to one official’s timeout to clean up a bloody Clemson player) the refs called three fouls on the first three possessions of the second half. It was an admirable thought, but at that point, the horse was already out of the barn and none of the players for either Clemson or Carolina knew how to adjust.
It was equally inept whistling. Both UNC and Clemson were called for six fouls apiece in the first half, 11 in the second half. The steady breaks in game play did have one benefit: Black, Love, Davis, and Manek were able to play 20 minutes in the second half thanks to the constant breathers. Bacot did not fare as well, since he was saddled with foul trouble, finally fouling out with 1:03 left in the game, right before Clemson’s star big-man PJ Hall got called for an offensive foul on the following possession.
If games are called like this, Armando Bacot will need to adjust accordingly. He was killing Clemson all night, and the only thing that could stop him was untimely offensive fouls. There will be a future opponent (probably Louisville at home) where he will be absolutely necessary to win the game, and Carolina can’t afford to have him on the bench for any appreciable period of time. His rebounding, scoring at the rim, and free throw shooting (he was 8 for 10 from the line) are crucial to UNC’s success.