Unlike last season at around this time, the Tar Heels had seemingly gotten over their blahs to put together a pretty good streak. Their last loss, Virginia, was understandable with Armando Bacot getting hurt early on, and after a tough win over Syracuse week-long break seemed to be just the ticket for Carolina before they go down the road for a rematch in Durham.
Pittsburgh is the one program that has been a thorn in Carolina’s side lately, and they were a thorn again last night. Win streak stopped, momentum stopped, and Carolina is left scratching their heads about where they go from here.
So what did we learn from this mess?
Officiating is just going to be a mess-get used to it
This, once again, was not a well-officiated game. Players were allowed to be outright physical down low while light hand checks were called at the top of the key. An bad foul call on Leaky early on led to two more fouls and two points, and a horribly missed out of bounds call late in the first led to Pitt having a lead at the end of the first half. As Carolina only lost by one, it’s fair to say that affected the game.
Thing is, as a Carolina fan I’m going to notice the misses on the Heels, and I’m sure folks who root against Carolina are able to spot all of the mistakes made that helped Carolina. I noticed one call that Caleb Love got in the second half that should have gone the other way. At one point with both teams jawing at each other the refs attempted a double-technical and it really didn’t settle things down, and twice an official who had a better view of a play had his mind changed by an outside official.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, though, it’s just not going to get better. It isn’t. This was an “experienced” crew charged to call this game, but one of the officials calling the game also was calling his fourth game in four nights...and he’s part time. Ultimately you can complain, you can shout, you can be mad-but ultimately until the ACC or the NCAA decides to figure out a better way to handle it, it’s just something we as a college fan base will have to deal with. At least Jim Phillips was there to see that.
Make your free throws
Now, all that said, Carolina lost this game and it wasn’t the fault of the officials. The Tar Heels managed to get 22 attempts at the foul line on Wednesday, right in line with how they want to operate. After a slow start getting it inside, Carolina took advantage of Bacot and starting getting whistles.
Unfortunately, they only hit thirteen of them.
When you lose by one, there’s a direct line you can make as to what cost you the game. Forget missed calls, forget the bad three point shooting, forget the rough defense. When you leave nine points at the line, and the majority of those misses are from the two guys you count on to get makes-Bacot and RJ Davis-it’s really tough to blame anything else but that as to how you lost the game. The misses from RJ are especially disturbing, as it’s possible he was still dealing with the effects of his two head shots last week as well as a re-taped hand. His shot seemed off all night as he missed all of his threes, went 2-4 at the line, and was just 3-15 overall.
So, as frustrating as the loss is, honestly, if Carolina has even a slightly better conversion rate at the line they win. In that vein it’s really not time to panic, just make sure that when you face a team that will be just a tight defensively as Duke on Saturday you convert your chances.
Caleb Love is almost back
On a night that saw the team as a whole shoot 5-27 from three, Caleb Love shot the best at 4-11. He made several drives to the basket taking advantage of the double teaming Pitt was doing on Bacot, and he hit the huge three to tie it late when it looked like Pitt was about to run away with the game. It’s the third game in a row that Love has looked a lot like his old self.
Did he take a couple threes that you wish he didn’t? Of course he did, and that’s part of his game for better or worse, but considering the shooting slump he was in at the beginning of the season, it’s good to see him getting his confidence back in time for the back half of the season and the first Duke game coming up on Saturday.
This is important because teams are going to follow the Pitt defensive model and double Bacot like it’s no one’s business from here on out, and the guards are going to have to hit those kind of shots to make teams pay. Like it or not, of the other four guys on the floor, the only other person you’d feel good about taking that shot is RJ Davis, and his shot was just off. The Tar Heels were in that game because of Caleb Love, as both Bacot and Davis arguably had their worst nights in a while.
It’s good to see as Caleb’s favorite place to play is next up on the agenda, and with his confidence growing you likely can expect him to try and fire away on Saturday night.