As wonderful as Saturday night was, Tuesday was frustrating for the Tar Heels. A hungry and desperate Clemson Tigers team rolled into Chapel Hill determined to get a win as they had seen their postseason outlook plummet in recent weeks, and the Tar Heels just weren’t ready for it.
The coach can say all of the right things to his team, he can run them as much as he wants, but ultimately it’s up to the players on the court to show up and on Tuesday they just didn’t. The resulting 80-76 loss to the Tigers gives Clemson their best win in a while, only their second ever in Chapel Hill, and narrows the Tar Heels’ lead in the ACC to one game.
So what did we learn in the loss?
Seth Trimble was sorely missed
Right before the game, Carolina announced that Seth Trimble would miss the game due to an upper body injury sustained in practice on Monday. The news should have raised some warning sounds, as the one area where the Tar Heels didn’t have a lot of quality depth was at the guard position. That and his tenacious defense gave Carolina a much smaller room for error and it showed quickly.
It’s no secret at this point that Eliot Cadeau’s defense just isn’t great. He has strong moments but between his propensity for fouling and the target that opponents have placed on him, Clemson was able to eat him alive and the Tar Heels just couldn’t get someone in for a good change of pace. Hubert Davis’ best option was Paxton Wojcik, and while Wojcik was fine with his 21 minutes of action, Trimble would have been a much better option as Clemson seemingly couldn’t miss in the first half.
The rhythm the Tar Heels had gotten into when Trimble was the first sub off the bench was completely disrupted, and it forced the Tar Heels to use more energy to come back. Even though they managed to tie it, they couldn’t do what was needed to take the lead. Here’s hoping that the absence is just one game, otherwise the Tar Heels have some serious work to do.
Teams are done letting RJ Davis beat them
Compounding the fact that the Tar Heels were missing Trimble, Clemson did the same thing on defense that Duke did —they made sure two people were on RJ Davis, focused their defense on him, and took their chances with everyone else. The difference between Clemson and Duke, though, was the front line that Clemson had to back up that defense. PJ Hall had just as great a game, if not better, than Bacot, and Ian Schieffelin added 11 boards and 14 points. Davis, meanwhile, had yet another slow start, and how hard he had to work to get free showed up both at the free throw line and from the field. He still finished with 22 points, but he was only 7-22 overall, 5-12 from three, and missed several chances late to keep the Tar Heels in it.
Carolina tried to make Clemson pay for the focus on RJ, and when they were allowed to speed up the tempo Clemson really didn’t have much of an answer— but Clemson did a great job learning from both their first meeting and the success Carolina had on Saturday. When the game slowed down the Tar Heels just couldn’t consistently answer to make Clemson pay for the occasional lapses.
Cormac Ryan needs a yellow light
Ryan has been a huge plus to the team this season — his toughness and energy is something the squad was missing last year, and teams have to at least take him seriously as a three-point shooter which does help out the offense. The problem is, too often he’ll miss his first shot or two and feel like he needs to try and shoot himself out of it from behind the arc. It kills any sort of momentum, and the long rebounds are more difficult for guys like Ingram and Bacot to coral.
Ryan was 0-6 from three on the night, and while you admire that he wants to see the ball go in, you wish he would use the space he was given behind the arc to drive more, forcing the defense to collapse, and take an easier shot to get points and to get into a rhythm. At the very least it increases the chances at a foul — and when you’re an 87% free throw shooter and you’re missing the driving ability of a Trimble, maybe getting to the line would help — and ultimately it just hurts the team as a whole.
Hopefully this is a lesson for Ryan that with the focus teams are putting on RJ and the attention they have to give Bacot, there’s nothing wrong with him driving to take what the defense is giving. His 1 for 10 stat line stands out like a sore thumb, and you can’t argue he hurt the Heels more than helped them on Tuesday.