No. 2 UNC Blows 15-Point Lead, Loses to Notre Dame

While shooting woes doomed the No. 2 UNC men’s basketball game in its loss to Louisville on Monday, another of last season’s critical issues—the inability to close out games—resurfaced in Saturday night’s 80-76 loss at Notre Dame.

Despite building a 15-point lead in the first half, the Tar Heels slowly fell apart down the stretch as the Fighting Irish (16-7, 7-4 ACC) rallied to hand them their second consecutive loss following a 12-game win streak.

Now 19-4 this year, UNC falls into a tie atop the ACC standings with Louisville—who banned itself from postseason play—at 8-2 in the conference.

Brice Johnson had 14 points and 14 rebounds, but it was not enough to hold off Notre Dame. (AP Photo/ Robert Frankling)

Brice Johnson had 14 points and 14 rebounds, but it was not enough to hold off Notre Dame. (AP Photo/ Robert Frankling)

The Tar Heels finished the game shooting 45 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three-point range, but head coach Roy Williams was not too pleased with the hustle stats.

“Their coach [Mike Brey] did a lot better of a job getting his guys to play with a great deal of intensity than I did,” Williams said after the game. “Look down there and see 19 points off turnovers for them, zero for us. Twenty-three second chance points for them, 13 for us. Thirty-eight foul shots for them, 21 for us.

“I’ve got to do a heck of a lot better getting our club to play with more intensity than we did,” he added.

Those effort plays crippled the Tar Heels on a night where senior guard Marcus Paige finally broke a six-game cold streak by scoring 21 points and nailing five three-pointers—the same amount of long-balls he hit during the entire slump.

Four of those threes sparked his team to the big lead that had them feeling like it had solved its one major issue.

The Fighting Irish simply outworked UNC the rest of the way–leaving Williams unable to explain what happened.

“Right now I don’t know if I can see my hand in front of my face, so I have no idea,” the coach said, after being asked if he liked his team’ intensity level in the first half. “I’ll look at it on tape.”

“It was easy early, and I’ve got a wonderful bunch of kids—but we’ve gotta decide that we wanna compete when it’s tough, not just when it’s easy.”

All five of Notre Dame’s starters scored in double figures, led by 19 each from guard Demetrius Jackson and forward Bonzie Colson. Colson’s partner in the frontcourt, Zach Auguste, had 15 points and 10 rebounds—including one on the offensive end where he grabbed the ball in front of four Tar Heels.

What’s impressive about these stats though, is that as a team the Fighting Irish made under 35 percent of their shots—or about as many as UNC made in its loss to Louisville.

The easy conclusion says the Tar Heels failed to show the killer instinct necessary when they had the chance to close this one out.

Notre Dame forward Zach Auguste dominated the glass all night. (AP Photo/ Robert Franklin)

Notre Dame forward Zach Auguste dominated the glass all night. (AP Photo/ Robert Franklin)

“Well, you know, the thing about it is—we can get up, but this is a tough league,” Williams said. “It’s not just about us. Notre Dame got up as well.

“The world’s not gonna come to an end, but right now I’m extremely frustrated.”

UNC junior guard Nate Britt sat out of the game with an illness, and it was clear the team could have used his defensive prowess and energy as the game wore on.

And although Brice Johnson picked up a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds, no other Tar Heel had more than four boards.

All of these stats combined help illustrate just how unsettling this loss should be moving forward, but Williams refused to let his players take the blame.

“The head coach didn’t do a very good job,” Williams said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Up Next:

UNC will have a prime opportunity to end this losing streak in its next game–a road contest against the ACC’s last place team, Boston College. That game will take place on Tuesday Feb. 9.

Game Notes:

  • Notre Dame’s two turnovers are the fewest against a Roy Williams coached UNC team (previous was four on three occasions).
  • Thirty-one made free throws by Notre Dame were the second most by opponents against a Roy Williams coached Tar Heel team.
  • Johnson now has 14 double-doubles this season for UNC in 23 games.

 

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/sports/notre-dames-hustle-gives-no-2-unc-second-straight-loss

UNC Football: Fedora and Chizik No Longer Selling Hope

UNC head football coach Larry Fedora announced Wednesday, on National Signing Day, the addition of 19 new recruits.

Fedora—fresh off an 11-win season and a contract extension—used this season’s success to help bring in the first full recruiting class of his five-year tenure in Chapel Hill.

The Tar Heels, who had seven other football commits enroll in January, filled all 26 scholarships available to them–as many of the nation’s top high school players waited until the last opportunity to declare their college intentions.

UNC vs. NC State

Andre Smith (56) saw significant playing time at linebacker in 2015 as a true freshman under Gene Chizik. (Photo by Smith Cameron Photography)

Some players, such as quarterback Chazz Surratt—North Carolina’s Gatorade Player of the Year—had already made their intentions known for months.

But for others, like cornerback K.J. Sails (the last to announce his decision on Wednesday) Fedora had to show that this team was capable of winning at a high level.

“There were some guys we were still closing on those last couple of months,” Fedora said at his press conference Wednesday.

“So every single one of those wins, every little bit of positive buzz that was going on around the state, or when you talk about the week of the [ACC] championship game where you turned on the TV and it was nothing but ‘North Carolina, North Carolina, North Carolina,” he continued. “Every recruit sees that.”

One of the main forces behind UNC’s incredible 2015 campaign was the hiring of defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, a national champion as both a head coach and an assistant.

In his first year, Chizik took over a defense that ranked as one of the nation’s worst and turned them into the nation’s most improved. The result was not just more wins, but also more interest from high-schoolers—as 16 of UNC’s incoming recruits play on the defensive side of the ball.

“Most of the recruits that we entertained, starting back a year ago when I got here, were guys that really already had a familiarity with North Carolina,” Chizik said. “I think they were all waiting to see, where is this program going?

“Because we were selling hope.”

Ross Martin of 247Sports.com discussed UNC’s recruiting class with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.

 

Now that the 2015 team has set a standard for Fedora and Chizik, strictly selling hope is no longer an option.

After matching the school’s record for single season wins in their first year together, there isn’t much room for improvement outside of winning championships. So now it’s about getting kids to buy in to the belief that the Tar Heels can turn 2015 into the norm, one year at a time.

“Gene delivered on the promises that everybody was making when he came,” Fedora said. “All the kids out there see that. They see the improvement. They’re like, ‘Well OK, let’s make the same improvement next year.’”

The one obstacle besides wins and losses that’s hampered Fedora on the recruiting trail at UNC has been the threat of NCAA sanctions due to the academic scandal.

UNC vs Virginia Tech

With talented returning players like tailback Elijah Hood returning to play with the 2016 class , the future is bright for Fedora’s program. (Smith Cameron Photography)

While the rulings in the case aren’t expected to be delivered until the spring, Fedora took the opportunity to let everyone know now that the days of it affecting his team are over.

“I really believe that cloud that’s been hanging over our head for the previous four years has dissipated,” Fedora said. “It’s not there. It’s not like it was.

“Even though I think people still try to use that out there, I just think people are tired of hearing about it,” he continued. “And they know there’s been a lot of ‘crying wolf’ about what’s gonna happen—and that none of those things has happened.

“So they feel comfortable with what we’re saying.”

If that proves to be true, then all signs point to a bright future for UNC football—possibly the most prolific stretch in program history–given all the talent returning to play next year with the 26 incoming freshmen.

“Winning helps in every aspect of the program, but definitely in recruiting,” Fedora said. “And I think toward the end of the year you felt that bump, and I think you’re gonna feel that bump into the 2017 class, and into the ’18 class.”

Notable:

  • Fedora said he would be fine if Surratt, who also plays basketball for East Lincoln High School in Denver, NC, wanted to try and walk-on for UNC’s team under Roy Williams on top of his quarterback duties.
  • Each of the recruits texted in a picture of their signed letters of intent. It was the first time in his career, Fedora said, that a fax machine was not used during the process.

 

Follow @averytrendel and @WCHLChapelboro on Twitter

http://chapelboro.com/featured/no-more-selling-hope-for-unc-football

Cold-Shooting Tar Heels Fall to No. 19 Louisville on the Road, 71-65

The No. 2 UNC men’s basketball team has earned a reputation for having great depth and the ability to win ugly games.

On Monday night, though, the Tar Heels may have played with fire for a little too long—shooting a season-low 34 percent in a 71-65 road loss to the No. 19 Louisville Cardinals, snapping a 12-game win streak.

As shot after shot clanged off the rim against the Cardinals’ high-pressure defense, UNC head coach Roy Williams could only watch as the clock hit triple zeroes and Louisville’s players dabbed in celebration after handing the ACC’s only unbeaten team its first conference loss after an 8-0 start.

Brice Johnson scored 15 points, but was held to just six attempts by the Louisville defense. (AP Photo/ Timothy D. Easley)

Brice Johnson scored 15 points, but was held to just six attempts by the Louisville defense. (AP Photo/ Timothy D. Easley)

Williams’ squad might be 19-3 overall, with all three losses coming on the road, but it’s shot under 40 percent in four of its last five games—forcing him to point out the obvious, and then explain what happened.

“We didn’t put the ball in the basket,” he said, after the game. “But their zone made it difficult for us to get it inside to our big guys.”

Senior forward Brice Johnson put together another double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, but was limited to just six shots against the Cardinals—who improve to 18-4 this season with a 7-2 mark in the ACC.

His partner-in-crime, Kennedy Meeks, only scored four points on four shots while held to just 18 minutes as he struggled with foul trouble.

Yet the Tar Heels still had a shot to win the game at the end—a testament to how well they find new ways to get the job done.

Down two points with just 35 seconds left, UNC grabbed three offensive rebounds during that final span—but couldn’t make the clutch plays this time.

All five Tar Heel shots after that point, including three at the rim, couldn’t find their way home– failing to produce any late-game magic.

“On the last play of the game—and I’ve never loved a player more than I have Marcus [Paige]—but we tipped it out and he goes after the ball with one hand,” Williams said. “Their guy comes in with two and gets the rebound.

“Kennedy [Meeks] goes up to get a rebound, and Trey Lewis—one of their guards—goes up to get a rebound and he came over [Meeks’] back and got the ball, knocked it out,” he continued. “I thought it was our ball, should have been a foul.

“But the referee saw it differently.”

One thing that wasn’t hard to see on Monday was that Paige, the senior guard, is still the poster boy for his team’s recent shooting slump. He made just three of his 13 attempts against Louisville, but continued to play strong in other areas–and his coach made sure to let everyone know.

“He hasn’t shot it worth a frankety-frank for the last four or five games,” Williams said of Paige. “Am I supposed to put him out and send him to Siberia?

“He’s one of the greatest kids I’ve ever coached,” he added. “I’m gonna stick with him, I’m gonna coach him, and he’s gonna try to take shots.

Damion Lee, who had 24 points for Louisville, dunks over Joel Berry. (AP Photo/ Timothy D. Easley)

Damion Lee, who had 24 points for Louisville, dunks over Joel Berry. (AP Photo/ Timothy D. Easley)

“But I don’t have any potion I can rub on people.”

The biggest shock to Tar Heel fans was that the poor-shooting bug found sophomore point guard Joel Berry, who’s become the team’s most consistent backcourt player this season.

“Joel Berry’s been shooting it pretty doggone well,” Williams said. “And he’s 1-for-10 tonight, 1-for-5 from three. We need a little bit better than that.”

With a lid seemingly stuck on the basket for everyone not named Damion Lee—the Louisville forward who scored a game-high 24 points–it made beating a ranked team on the road that much tougher.

UNC played strong down the stretch, but ultimately ran out of gas in front of the raucous crowd, which stayed extremely loud throughout the game in support of their Cardinals.

“I felt like we had a sense of urgency,” Williams said of UNC’s performance. “But their sense of urgency was a little better than ours.”

Up Next:

Two more road games await the Tar Heels following this one on their challenging February schedule, including this Saturday against Notre Dame.

At some point the shots will have to start falling. If they don’t UNC could find itself in a little bit of troube.

Monday proved that elite competition doesn’t leave anywhere near as much room for error.

Game Notes:

  • UNC is now 2-3 this season in games where Berry doesn’t score in double figures. When he does, the Tar Heels are 17-0.
  • For the game, UNC shot 3-of-17 (17.6 percent) from three-point range.
  • The Tar Heels also committed a season-high 16 turnovers.
  • Louisville center Chinanu Onuaku shot his eight free throws underhanded.

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/featured/cold-shooting-tar-heels-fall-no-19-louisville-road-71-65

No. 2 UNC Suffocates Boston College as ACC Play Heats Up

As college basketball begins to take the spotlight in the sporting world, the No. 2 Tar Heels defeated the Boston College Eagles 89-62 on Saturday—using the last place squad in the ACC as a tune-up before the competition becomes stronger.

It’s now 12 straight wins for the Tar Heels, who are 19-2 this season—including an 8-0 start to conference play.

Roy Williams wanted to see improvement in two key areas against Boston College--shooting and defense. (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams wanted to see improvement in two key areas against Boston College–shooting and defense. (Todd Melet)

Despite not having lost since Dec. 12, head coach Roy Williams’ team has struggled to find defensive consistency, and has had problems making shots in recent outings.

Although the Tar Heels made just 11 of their 22 free throws on Saturday, they forced a whopping 23 turnovers and shot 53 percent from the field.

“Before the game today, instead of putting up X’s and O’s on the board I said, ‘Let’s play get better on defense, get better on offense, and let’s give the A-grade effort—see if we’re mature enough to handle this.’” Williams said, referencing the recent sluggish play.

Brice Johnson continued his breakout season with 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Tar Heels, who dropped Boston College to 7-14 overall and 0-8 in the ACC.

But it was the backcourt of Joel Berry and Marcus Paige that made the most noise. The two combined for five of UNC’s 12 steals, which netted the Tar Heels 30 points off of turnovers alone.

Offensively, Berry had 13 points and six assists as Paige finally broke out of his own personal slump—letting a big smile loose in the opening half when he knocked down a three-pointer for the first time since Jan. 9 at Syracuse.

“I want you to go the gym, miss twenty-something in a row—then make one and have the whole arena cheer for you,” Paige said to reporters after the game. “I’ve never missed that many shots in a row in my life. So to just finally give one to people, it was relieving.”

There were still plenty of sloppy moments for the Tar Heels, like the poor free throw shooting and a slow start to the first half—but the frenetic defense and improved shot-making provides the team with somewhere to build from.

This game was just the beginning for UNC, Berry said, as the team enters its all-important stretch run.

“Once the shots start falling, and we come together on the defensive end, we can be a great team,” Berry said. “But we have to start doing that.

Marcus Paige finally broke out of a shooting slump that saw him go three weeks in between made three-pointers. (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige finally broke out of a shooting slump that saw him go three weeks in between made three-pointers. (Todd Melet)

“We knocked down some shots today, and Marcus knocked down some which was good to see,” he continued. “We just need to focus on the defensive end—that’s the biggest thing we need to key in on. And we’re gonna do that later down the road.”

That road will start with Monday’s trip to Louisville, but also includes a game at Notre Dame– followed by a visit to Boston to take on the Eagles again.

After that road stretch, there’s two games against Duke, one versus Miami and another with Virginia—all teams who have spent plenty of time in the top 25 this year.

Always a master motivator, Williams issued a simple challenge to his players regarding the tough upcoming matchups.

“If we play the way we’ve played the last four games, it’ll be very difficult to win any of those [upcoming] games,” the coach said. “So we’ve gotta play better.”

UNC will now be chasing consistency from here on out, but sophomore wing Theo Pinson said it best when addressing what’s to come in the next couple months.

“It’s go time now,” Pinson said. “And I think we’re ready.”

Up Next:

Just a single off day awaits the Tar Heels, as they prepare to face head coach Rick Pitino and his Louisville Cardinals–who are currently ranked No. 16 in the nation.

Game Notes:

  • Isaiah Hicks scored eight points in his first start of the season in place of Kennedy Meeks, who was held out of the starting lineup for arriving late to the pregame shootaround.
  • Paige finished the game with 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting–including a 3-for-8 mark from beyond the arc.
  • At halftime, UNC honored former baseball pitcher Andrew Miller, now the closer for the New York Yankees. Miller’s number 33 was officially retired by the baseball program.
  • Boston College made as many field goals (23) as it had turnovers.

 

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/featured/no-2-unc-suffocates-boston-college-as-acc-play-heats-up

Tar Heels Grind Out a Win Over Virginia Tech, Could Move to No. 1

With all the snow and ice covering the East Coast, you can’t blame the No. 2 UNC men’s basketball team for thinking this game against Virginia Tech was some sort of vacation.

The Tar Heels came into Cassell Coliseum on Sunday riding a 10-game win streak–then opened up a 20-point lead on the Hokies in the first half.

But after a furious Virginia Tech rally, the Tar Heels were forced to hang on for a narrow 75-70 victory.

Joel Berry scored 13 points, and was one of only two Tar Heels in double figures against Virginia Tech. (AP Photo/ Matt Gentry)

Joel Berry scored 13 points, and was one of only two Tar Heels in double figures against Virginia Tech. (AP Photo/ Matt Gentry)

It was a comeback that quickly reminded Roy Williams’ team that they were, in fact, on a business trip.

“We started thinking it was gonna be easy,” the UNC head coach said after the game. “And I also took out Brice [Johnson]. I took out Kennedy [Meeks]. Isaiah [Hicks] was out. So three of our top six guys were out because they had two fouls.

“I’ve said all year long, our depth has got to be important to us, and I think it was,” he added.

Johnson, the Tar Heels’ best player as of late, added to his ACC Player of the Year resume with 19 points and 17 rebounds. He also made a significant impact on the defensive end–chipping in four steals and three blocks to help put away the upset-minded Hokies.

UNC is now 18-2 this season (7-0 ACC), but has not played the prettiest basketball over its past three games.

Joel Berry was the only Tar Heel to join Johnson in double figures–scoring 13, despite making just three of his 11 shots.

The struggles also continued for Marcus Paige.

Paige, the senior guard who came into Sunday shooting a combined 3-for-25 from the field with eight points over the past three games, finished with just seven points and made just two of his 10 shots. He did contribute seven assists, however, and hit a pair of critical free throws down the stretch.

“I know there’s frustration,” Williams said of Paige. “I don’t think it’s pressure. He and I talk, so I don’t think he’s pressing or anything. I think he’s extremely frustrated, which, I think he should be extremely frustrated.

“If I had made three of my last 25,” the coach continued. “Hell, I’d be hesitant too.”

As a team, the Tar Heels connected on just three of their 23 attempts from three-point range on Sunday–and made just 37.8 percent of their field goals.

The foul trouble that hampered UNC’s big men early on against the Hokies forced freshman Luke Maye into 11 minutes of playing time.

It also allowed Virginia Tech (12-8, 4-3 ACC) to get to the free throw line 32 times–of which it made 22. The Hokies–led by Zach Leday’s 17 points–drilled eight three-pointers on the day, with three of them coming during the 18-3 run that closed out the first half.

Through it all, UNC still found a way to win–as ugly as it may have been.

“I was not concerned,” Williams said about his team’s recent shooting woes. “But now, I can be concerned if I want to, because three games in a row is enough. [We’ve] got to be able to step up and make some shots.”

Luke Maye played 11 minutes for UNC, which got into serious foul trouble in the frontcourt. (AP Photo/ Matt Gentry)

Luke Maye played 11 minutes for UNC, which got into serious foul trouble in the frontcourt. (AP Photo/ Matt Gentry)

It’s been well-documented in recent weeks the amount of depth the Tar Heels have. But this win was more about grit than it was about having a number of different players step up.

As the lead dwindled and the clocked ticked away, Virginia Tech seemed to have an answer for everything the Tar Heels threw its way–until it mattered most.

With the score tied at 68 and just two minutes to play, UNC tightened up defensively and made plays when they were needed.

Johnson and Paige combined to hit five free throws down the stretch, while Berry found Justin Jackson underneath the rim for an easy layup in between.

The Hokies during that span missed three shots and turned the ball over twice.

Williams’ team simply put on its hard hats and did what it’s become accustomed to lately.

Grinding it out, no matter how much whiter it makes the coach’s hair.

Now, the number one ranking awaits.

Up Next:

If the Tar Heels do return to the top of the polls, they won’t make their first defense until Saturday, Jan. 30 at home against the Boston College Eagles–the ACC’s last place team.

Game Notes:

  • It’s the first time UNC has won three straight games shooting under 40 percent since the 2010-11 season when the Tar Heels did it in wins against Clemson, Wake Forest, and Boston College.
  • Brice Johnson’s dunk in the first half was his 164th in a Tar Heel uniform, passing Tyler Hansbrough for the most in the Roy Williams era.
  • UNC’s three worst shooting percentages as a team this season have come in its last three games.
  • Justin Jackson fouled out in just 24 minutes, while Kennedy Meeks was limited to just 20 minutes with four fouls.

 

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/featured/tar-heels-grind-win-virginia-tech

No. 2 Tar Heels Sleepwalk Past Wake Forest, 83-68

Without playing anywhere close to its potential on Wednesday night, the No. 2 UNC men’s basketball team still managed an 83-68 win at the Smith Center over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

The Tar Heels have now won 10 games in a row—and could return to No. 1 next week—even though their brightest star, senior guard Marcus Paige, finds himself mired in the biggest slump of his career.

In the past three games—all of which have come after he got his first haircut of the season—Paige has scored a total of just eight points, including two on Wednesday, and has made only three of his last 25 shots.

Despite Paige’s struggles, his roommate–Brice Johnson—answered the bell against Wake Forest with 27 points and 11 rebounds–lifting the team’s record to 17-2 overall and 6-0 in the ACC.

Brice Johnson's 27 points and 11 rebounds led the way for the Tar Heels, who now have a chance to return to No. 1. (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson’s 27 points and 11 rebounds led the way for the Tar Heels, who now have a chance to return to No. 1. (Todd Melet)

Johnson was the only UNC player to reach double figures for head coach Roy Williams in a sloppy game that saw the Tar Heels build a 16-point halftime lead, before poor defense allowed the Demon Deacons– now 10-8 with a 1-5 mark in conference play–to stick around.

“We won,” Williams said after the game, following it with a sarcastic chuckle. “I’m as happy as I can possibly be. It wasn’t very pretty.

“Wake struggled, and so did we.”

What’s telling about the Tar Heels’ ability to win games by double digits without Paige producing as he normally does, is that they’re showing how consistent they can be no matter who scores the points.

If that’s the case now, and a double-digit win can be viewed in a negative light, then certainly nobody will want to face UNC when Paige gets it together and everything’s clicking.

Just don’t ask Williams when that will be, because his guess is as good as yours.

“I’ve never had a player in 28 years as a head coach that I’ve got more confidence in than Marcus [Paige],” Williams said.

“So I’m gonna go get a crystal ball, put a wig on, and get some incense.” he continued. “Is that what it is? That smoke stuff? And then chant something to see if I can figure it out.”

It wasn’t just Paige that had an off-night though. The Tar Heels shot just 38 percent as a team, their second worst performance of the season—with the last game against NC State being the worst. They also allowed Wake Forest to make 13 layups in a second half in which they shot just 26 percent themselves.

Sophomore guard Joel Berry, who was UNC’s second leading scorer with nine points, explained to reporters how that happened.

“I mean, we were up 20,” Berry said. “And so we thought we had the game coming into the second half. They just kept playing.

“They didnt get it too close, but we could get another team that could get on a roll and we won’t be able to stop ‘em.”

Wake Forest continually got to the rim for easy buckets throughout the second half, which they won 38-37. (Todd Melet)

Wake Forest continually got to the rim for easy buckets throughout the second half, which they won 38-37. (Todd Melet)

After top-ranked Oklahoma lost to Iowa State on Monday, the door is now open for the Tar Heels to return to the top spot in the rankings for the first time since late November. All they need to do is defeat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Sunday and they’ll be back atop the mountain.

To reach that point, there’s still plenty of room for improvement—which is scary given the way this team has been able to win convincingly while turning in a few sub-par performances.

“We have all the pieces that we need,” Berry said. “We just have to play to our potential, and not take it easy on anyone.

“I think once we get to that point–and we start buckling down on the defensive end—I think that’ll just take us to being a greater team.”

With that “should have done more” feeling permeating throughout the locker room, it shouldn’t be a shock to hear that Williams was in touch with his inner Mick Jagger as he got ready to leave the arena.

“Satisfaction is not part of my language right now,” the coach said before pausing for a second.

“Nowhere. No. Not even close”

Up Next:

UNC will play four of its next five games away from home, starting with this Sunday’s contest at Virginia Tech, who is 12-7 right now with a 4-2 mark in the ACC.

Game Notes:

  • This is the ninth time in Roy Williams’s tenure as UNC’s head coach that the Tar Heels have won at least 10 games in a row.
  • It was the first time UNC has had only one player in double figures (Johnson) since a loss vs. Miami on 1/8/14 (James Michael McAdoo).
  • Isaiah Hicks had a career-high nine rebounds.
  • Paige has never gone scoreless in a game during his UNC career. He has now scored two points on six separate occasions (the first five were during his freshman year).

 

FINAL BOX SCORE

 

Follow @averytrendel and @WCHLChapelboro for updates on the team all season long

http://chapelboro.com/featured/no-2-tar-heels-sleepwalk-past-wake-forest-83-68

Meeks, No. 5 UNC Use Depth to Defeat Wolfpack

In just his second game back from a bruised knee—and his first time back in the starting lineup—junior forward Kennedy Meeks scored 18 of his 23 points in the second half on Saturday, as the No. 5 UNC men’s basketball team defeated the NC State Wolfpack 67-55 at the Dean Dome.

Now at 16-2 this season—including 5-0 in the ACC—the Tar Heels are forcing opponents to pick their poison each game as they continue to extend the best conference start since Roy Williams arrived as head coach in 2003.

Despite seeing its three leading scorers–Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige, and Justin Jackson–held to a combined 15 points for the game, UNC didn’t panic.

Roy Williams giving Brice Johnson some tough love. Johnson scored just six points on Saturday. (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams giving Brice Johnson some tough love. Johnson scored just six points on Saturday. (Todd Melet)

The team simply turned to Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, who scored eight of his 10 points during a stagnant first half, to get the job done.

“For us, our depth has always been a positive,” Williams said after the game. “I think Isaiah and Nate [Britt] really kept us in the game in the first half. And then Kennedy was really much, much better in the second half.”

Although the Wolfpack boast the top scorer in the ACC with point guard Cat Barber, UNC took advantage of NC State’s biggest weakness—depth.

Eleven different players took the floor for the Tar Heels compared to just seven for their opponents.

By the end of the game, NC State head coach Mark Gottfried was having his team play zone defense to try and not only stop the Tar Heels’ inside attack, but also to conserve energy. Unfortunately for Gottfried, Meeks and his teammates saw blood in the water and pounced—opening up a game that was tied at halftime.

“When they got into that zone, you could kind of see that they were getting tired—and also because they were in foul trouble,” Meeks said. “So we just tried to keep attacking them and getting those and-one baskets or whatever it may be.”

Meeks not only made noise with his scoring on Saturday, but he also provided a number of hustle plays, including a few dives on the floor and three blocked shots.

As the Wolfpack players began wearing down, Meeks’ energy was the difference down the stretch. In fact it was that, more than anything else that impressed Williams.

“I think it was just total effort,” Williams said of Meeks’ performance. “You saw it yourself. I asked him ‘Did you really dive those three times or did somebody trip you?’ He said he really did dive.

“But I think that was important,” the coach added. “And his blocked shots [were too]. In the first half he was sort of tiptoeing up there.”

The UNC defense held the ACC's leading scorer, Cat Barber (12) to just nine points. (Todd Melet)

The UNC defense held the ACC’s leading scorer, Cat Barber (12) to just nine points. (Todd Melet)

After a week-long break leading up to this game, UNC will now play out the rest of the season without that kind of prolonged layoff.

For that reason, depth becomes more important, especially considering the heavy competition awaiting the Tar Heels at the back end of their schedule.

The fact that Meeks is back at full strength, though, should put fear into the team’s upcoming foes. They’re capable of winning in so many different ways that these players all legitimately believe this may just be the start of something special.

“Somebody had to step up with Brice and Marcus and Justin [not having] their best games,” Meeks said. “It just happened to be me today.

“It feels good to be a part of this team,” he continued. “We’re capable of going really far this year.

Up Next: 

A second straight home game against an in-state rival awaits the Tar Heels on Wednesday–as the Wake Forest Demon Deacons make a visit to the Dean Dome.

Game Notes:

  • Meeks was 10 for 16 from the floor for the game, including 8 for 10 in the second half. The rest of UNC’s starters made 11 field goals for the game (5 by Berry); take out Meeks’ 10 for 16 and the rest of the Tar Heels shot 15 for 50 (30 percent).
  • Roy Williams is 29-3 against NC State as a head coach – 24-3 at Carolina and 5-0 while at Kansas.
  • Carolina held Cat Barber to a season-low nine points on 4 of 11 shooting from the floor, a season-high tying five turnovers and no free throw attempts. Barber had been averaging 8.7 free throw attempts this season.

  •  Marcus Paige scored three points for the second consecutive game and did not make a three-point field goal for the first time in 42 games.

 

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/unc-mens-basketball/meeks-no-5-unc-use-depth-to-defeat-wolfpack

Brice and Roy: A Love Story

It’s become commonplace among Tar Heel basketball fans over the past four years to ask themselves a similar question before each game.

Are we getting “Good Brice” or “Bad Brice?”

Perhaps nobody has asked that about senior forward Brice Johnson more than his head coach, Roy Williams—creating a fascinating relationship between them.

Thrust into the conversation recently as one of the nation’s best players thanks to his 39-point, 23-rebound game against Florida State last week, Johnson has shown steady improvement all season long and is the main reason this year’s Tar Heels have made the leap to NCAA title contenders.

Brice Johnson's recent hot streak has the nation taking notice. (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson’s recent hot streak has the nation taking notice. (Todd Melet)

Despite the growth in his game, Williams knows there is still plenty of potential out there—so he treats Johnson as tough as he always has, almost like a son.

For Johnson, it’s just what he knows. His high school coach, Herman Johnson—his father—treated him the same way.

“It takes a lot for someone to get under my skin,” Johnson said. “My dad did a pretty good job of that sometimes. Coach Williams does a pretty good job of pushing me. He does just about the same as my dad.

“But my dad is my dad, so he kinda did a little bit more,” he continued. “He didn’t want me to be the golden child.”

In recent years, it hasn’t been uncommon for Johnson to appear emotional and distraught during his postgame interviews with the media—even after wins. Many times it’s clear that Williams has just finished using him as an example in front of his teammates—making sure Johnson is never the golden child, whether he scores four points or 40.

“I guess sometimes you can step over the line, and I’m sure I have,” Williams said about the way he pushes Johnson. “But if I’m trying to help you be the best you can possibly be—I sound like an Army commercial—if I’m trying to do that to you, then I don’t think that needs any apology.

“But he’s such a wacko kid,” the coach continued, with a smile. “”He comes in [the room] and I start laughing.”

While the majority of the Williams/Johnson love affair comes behind closed doors, there are times when it spills over into games.

Against Tulane earlier this year, Johnson drew laughs from the bench when he patted Williams’ head as he approached to take his seat.

This reaction is typical for Roy Williams whenever Brice Johnson makes a mistake. (Todd Melet)

This reaction is typical for Roy Williams whenever Brice Johnson makes a mistake. (Todd Melet)

The next game, against then No. 22 UCLA in Brooklyn, Williams benched Johnson for using profanity out on the floor. Held out for close to nine minutes during the first half, Johnson responded with a then career-high 27 points to lead UNC to victory.

“He does every little thing that he can,” Johnson said of Williams. “I can’t say exactly what he says, but he has said some very motivating things that probably hurt my heart a little bit, and kind of got to me—forced me to play a little bit better.”

Williams has done the same thing since Johnson first arrived in Chapel Hill from his home in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

Push him to get a little bit better each day, whatever it takes.

Now the scrawny 6-foot-10 185-pound freshman–who wasn’t on anyone’s high school All-American team—has bulked up to 230, added a mean right-handed hook shot to pair with his explosive dunks, and established himself as the go-to guy for a traditional college basketball powerhouse.

“Joe Holladay told me after [Johnson’s] freshman year—the first day of workouts—he didn’t know if [Johnson] would show up for practice,” Williams said, referencing his former assistant. “He said he thought [Johnson] would go home that day. Brice said ’I thought about it.’

“It’s been a gradual process,” he added. “I keep pushing him, and pushing him, and pushing him. And I’m gonna keep doing that.

“But he’s made some very significant progress there.”

Although Johnson has had a couple off-nights this year, like his three points on 1-for-8 shooting against Clemson, his level of consistency has been the most notable aspect of his improvement.

Johnson's emergence has fans in Chapel Hill thinking big this season. (Todd Melet)

Johnson’s emergence has fans in Chapel Hill thinking big this season. (Todd Melet)

Naturally a quiet personality, Johnson admits that the expectations that come along with his recent hot streak do scare him a bit.

That’s where Williams comes in, always preaching to him what he’s capable of—regardless of whether he’s in the mood for it.

“It does help for him to say a couple of things that’ll motivate me to get me into the right frame of mind,” Johnson said. “But I don’t necessarily need him to do that.”

As the season goes on and the Tar Heels continue to win, Johnson’s star will continue to shine brighter.

And with it, Williams’ chances at his third—and the school’s seventh—national title will continue to grow larger, potentially cementing this odd couple in UNC history forever.

No matter what happens though, there’s one thing you can always expect Williams to say about his big man, given what they’ve been through together.

“With Brice, you gotta understand,” he said. “Brice is still Brice.”

http://chapelboro.com/featured/brice-and-roy-a-love-story

Orange Crushed: No. 6 UNC Spoils Boeheim’s Return, Beats Syracuse 84-73

Coming off its first true road win of the season on Monday against Florida State, the No. 6 UNC men’s basketball team did it again Saturday night at the Carrier Dome—defeating the Syracuse Orange 84-73 in the midst of an emotionally charged atmosphere.

The Tar Heels jump to 15-2 this season after the victory, with each of the team’s losses coming in its first two road games of the season—at Northern Iowa and at Texas.

UNC also moves to 4-0 in the ACC for the first time in the Roy Williams era after outlasting the Orange on a night that marked a pair of returns.

The game marked the return of Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim from his nine-game NCAA suspension. (AP Photo/ Nick Lisi)

The game marked the return of Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim from his nine-game NCAA suspension. (AP Photo/ Nick Lisi)

Not only did Williams and the Tar Heels get junior forward Kennedy Meeks back from a bruised knee, Syracuse got its Hall-of-Fame head coach, Jim Boeheim, back from a nine-game suspension for NCAA infractions.

“I was glad to see him back,” Williams said about Boeheim. “There’s no question I think it gave their crowd a huge emotional lift, and their team as well. But we were lucky the ball went in for us.

“When I saw that his first game back was gonna be against the University of North Carolina I wasn’t the happiest guy in the world.”

With an announced crowd of over 26,000 people, it was the largest attendance recorded at a college basketball game this year. The home crowd was given a lift by senior sharpshooter Trevor Cooney, who followed a script commonly used by UNC’s opponents this year—hitting five three-pointers and scoring 27 points.

Syracuse held a six-point lead with just over seven minutes to play, but the frontcourt duo of Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks overcame just three points from Marcus Paige to drop the Orange to 10-7 on the year and 0-4 since conference play began.

“We were able to send ‘em home early with the great way we played in the second half,” Johnson said. “It was a great feeling for us to be able to get a win in this fantastic arena.”

Closing out games was a major problem for the Tar Heels both last season and in the team’s two losses this year.

But UNC adjusted to Syracuse’s zone defense in the second half on Saturday, with Johnson consistently finding holes on his way to a career-high 8 assists to go along with his 16 points. Hicks was the recipient of many of those passes, ending the game with 21 points as Meeks was limited to just 14 minutes in his first game back.

“That was something Brice had seen,” Hicks said. “He was like, ‘You know what? You stay there [down low], and let me go get the ball. Be ready to catch it.’

Justin Jackson drives to the basket against Syracuse’'s Trevor Cooney. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)

Justin Jackson drives to the basket against Syracuse’’s Trevor Cooney. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)

“I gotta give that to Brice,” he added.

Justin Jackson added 16 points despite battling a fever earlier in the day, and Joel Berry chipped in 14 as the Tar Heels find themselves clicking on all cylinders at the moment—no matter where they play.

That should be a good sign for the team moving forward, especially looking back at the last time UNC visited the Carrier Dome—a 57-45 loss in 2014 that Williams still hasn’t let go of.

“Two years ago we came up here and they beat us by 806 or whatever it was,” the coach said. “[Tonight] we made some mistakes. We did some dumb things. But we also made some very good basketball plays.”

Now with its full roster finally healthy–and a demonstrated ability to finish on the road–this particular Tar Heel squad has the potential to take its current eight-game winning streak and turn it into the school’s record 30th ACC regular season championship–and potentially even more.

“We’re ready to take the big step,” Hicks said. “We want to be the last team playing. But we gotta start now. We can’t wait ’til later.”

Up Next:

Rivalry week is upon us, as the Tar Heels will have a full seven days to prepare for next Saturday’s home game against the NC State Wolfpack (10-5).

Game Notes:

  • Cooney put together another monster performance after lighting the Tar Heels up for 28 points last season at the Smith Center.
  • Brice Johnson has set career-highs in points, rebounds, and assists this week.
  • In his first game action since the loss to Texas on Dec. 12, Meeks scored eight points.

 

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/featured/orange-crushed-no-6-unc-spoils-boeheims-return-beats-syracuse-84-73

“That Was a Man’s Night”: Johnson Leads No. 6 UNC Past FSU

Throughout his career in Chapel Hill senior forward Brice Johnson has shown flashes of greatness, but struggled with inconsistency.

On Monday night in Tallahassee, Johnson finally showed what it looks like when everything is clicking—tallying 39 points and 23 rebounds to lead the No. 6 Tar Heels past the Florida State Seminoles 106-90.

Both numbers were career-highs for the senior from Orangeburg, South Carolina, who combined with his roommate, Marcus Paige, to propel UNC’s record to 14-2 and 3-0 in the ACC.

Johnson (right) and Justin Jackson (left) corral FSU freshman Dwayne Bacon at the rim. (AP Photo/ Mark Wallheiser)

Johnson (right) and Justin Jackson (left) corral FSU freshman Dwayne Bacon at the rim. (AP Photo/ Mark Wallheiser)

On any other night Paige’s 30 points—or the fact that the pair became the first set of Tar Heel teammates since 1998 to each score that many—would dominate the headlines.

But Johnson’s performance was arguably the best by a UNC player in the Roy Williams era, coming up just one point and one rebound shy of tying the single-game school records for each statistic since the head coach arrived in 2003.

“Brice Johnson was off the charts,” Williams said after the game. “I’ve been on his case for four years, but 39 points, 23 rebounds—that was a man’s night.”

Locked in an up-and-down game with the Seminoles—who now drop to 10-4 and 0-2 in conference play—Johnson scored 28 of his points in the second half.

Florida State sophomore guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes hit seven three-pointers on his way to 30 points, but only one of those came in the final 17 minutes—while Johnson wreaked havoc by finding ways to create easy buckets against a Seminole frontcourt possessing two players at least 7-foot-3.

“When [our guards] would get in the lane, the big guys would help up thinking [they] were gonna shoot a floater—then they’d just dump it off to me,” Johnson said.

“In the right place, at the right time,” he continued. “That’s the one thing I’ve learned being here is if the guard comes in the lane, just back up a little bit into the short corner.

“And then hopefully there’s a shot, or if something comes off the rim I get the rebound and the score.”

Only Joel Berry, with 12 points, joined Johnson and Paige in double figures as the Tar Heels broke the century mark for the first time all season—putting it into perspective how dominant the two seniors were against a talented, but young, Seminole team.

“To be a really good team, I’ve said this many times, we need to be able to win in the 50’s and 60’s,” Williams said about the scoring outburst. “But I like it a lot better when it’s in the 80’s and 90’s—or 100.

“I think those are more enjoyable games to watch,” he added. “There’s more plays, more causes for heart attacks for the coach I guess. But I like that tempo of the game.”

Roy Williams said Johnson's game was among the best he'd ever seen. (AP Photo/ Mark Wallheiser)

Roy Williams said Johnson’s game was among the best he’d ever seen. (AP Photo/ Mark Wallheiser)

In the seven-game winning streak since Kennedy Meeks went down with a knee injury, Johnson has averaged 21 points per game and become the team’s leading scorer.

However, he had arguably one of the worst games of his career less than a week ago against Clemson—putting up just three points while dealing with foul trouble throughout.

It’s that kind of unpredictability that has made him a constant lightning rod for criticism from Williams.

“This is about as good [a performance] as any I’ve ever seen—particularly on the road,” the coach said. “Especially for Brice, because I have to stay on his case–and Kennedy’s case–so much because their effort’s gotta be at a higher level and be more consistent.

“But it was there tonight,” he added.

Because of that relationship, one with a similar dynamic to how Johnson was treated by his father—also his high school coach—it’s not surprising to hear Williams’ explanation of how this career night came to life.

“The stars and the moon were aligned properly,” he said. “That’s probably what it was.”

Up Next:

Coming off its first true road win of the season, UNC will try again to complete the feat on Saturday, when they go the Carrier Dome to take on the Syracuse Orange–who will be welcoming back Hall-of-Fame coach Jim Boeheim from a nine-game suspension.

Game Notes:

  • Only Harrison Barnes and Tyler Hansbrough have scored more points in a game (each had 40) since Williams took over as head coach. Only Sean May (24) has had more rebounds in that time span.
  • Johnson shot 14-of-16 from the floor. His 14 field goals were also the most in the Williams era (May and Hansbrough each had 13 on two separate occasions).
  • Johnson and Paige became the first UNC teammates since Antawn Jamison and Shammond Williams to each score 30 in the same game.
  • Both the 39 points and 23 rebounds were all-time records at the Tucker Center, Florida State’s home arena.
  • Previously, Johnson’s career-bests were 27 points and 18 rebounds.

 

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/featured/that-was-a-mans-night-johnson-puts-it-together-leads-no-6-unc-past-fsu