Happy Holiday ‘Hardwood’ Season For Tar Heels

It was a clean sweep for the Tar Heels on the hardwood over the weekend. The women took full advantage of a pre-Christmas beach vacation, while the men finally earned that signature win they had been hoping for.

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A fourth loss wouldn’t have necessarily been devastating for the UNC men’s basketball team, but an 82-74 win was a much better outcome for head coach Roy Williams’ squad Saturday inside the United Center.

No. 24 Carolina came out on fire, knocking down shots and playing with high energy on both sides of the floor to create a quick double-digit lead on No. 12 Ohio State.

JP Tokoto gets a bucket (UNC Athletics)

JP Tokoto lays one in (UNC Athletics)

But it was the way the 8-3 Tar Heels finished, missing nearly all of their free throws down the stretch and turning the ball over with regularity, which is keeping Coach Williams from drinking too much celebratory Egg Nog.

“I’m extremely relieved. I’m not sitting up here saying I’m as happy as I could possibly be. I don’t hear the ‘Happy’ song in my ears right now. We stunk it up down the stretch, and I think we got to get better there,” Coach Williams says.

Junior point guard Marcus Paige says he’s happy with the improved play of the big men this year, but is not using that as an excuse for his dip in production this season.

“Brice [Johnson] and Kennedy [Meeks] have done a great job this year of being an inside presence. We wanted Kennedy to finish a little stronger around the basket today, but Brice was great [18 pts, 9 rbs]. I don’t need to play perfect, but I do need to play better,” Paige says.

Meanwhile in Myrtle Beach, the UNC women’s basketball team picked up a pair of convincing wins over inferior opponents to cure the sour taste of their first loss of the season.

Sophomore guard Allisha Gray continues to provide the most offensive spark for the 11-1 Tar Heels, leading the scoring charge in both contests with 17 points against Maine Friday night and 20 points versus Elon on Sunday.

Allisha Gray (UNC Athletics)

Allisha Gray (UNC Athletics)

Junior forward Xylina McDaniel went down with an apparent ankle injury late in Sunday’s game, but the full extent of her injury remains unknown.

Sunday’s 85-67 victory was not settled until the second half. After taking a mere 46-43 advantage into the locker room, the Tar Heels used a 9-0 run to open the final 20 minutes of play to seize control and cruise from there.

The Tar Heels will now get a chance to enjoy their Christmas before returning to action later this month in Chapel Hill.

The men welcome UAB to the Smith Center Saturday for a 4 p.m. tipoff. The women don’t play again until a Dec. 30 meeting with Albany in Carmichael Arena.


Carolina Conquers Ohio State In Chi-Town

CHICAGO — Carolina won a must game on its non-conference schedule, but almost gave the dad-gum thing away to Ohio State for Christmas before holding on for 82-74 win Saturday at The House Jordan Built (United Center).

After their best first half of the season, leading 43-31 when it should have been a bigger spread, the Tar Heels were still up a dozen with seven minutes to play. Then two hallmarks of a legendary program that have failed the last couple of seasons returned – scary bad foul shooting and the lack of confidence to close out a game.

Over 45 seconds, Carolina missed seven of eight free throws (the usually deadly Marcus Paige three of them), but poor shooting by Ohio State or good defense by the Tar Heels (or both) kept the Big Ten Buckeyes scoreless for most of the last minute when they had cut the deficit to seven points and were in position to steal the win.

Roy Williams called it a “weird, weird game” and finished both halves mad at his team that for about 32 minutes played the kind of basketball Tar Heel fans have been hoping for since the season began.

Brice Johnson with the dunk (UNC Athletics)

Brice Johnson with the dunk (UNC Athletics)

They led by as many as 16 points in the first half with balanced scoring and an eight-rebound margin but let the lead slip to 12, giving up two baskets to the Buckeyes around what was supposed to be the last shot of the half.

“I was really ticked off at halftime,” Williams said. “If I want the last shot, you know what I want? The last shot. Not shoot with six seconds left and give them a layup on the other end.”

Making it worse was Carolina had two fouls to give but let the Buckeyes score at the buzzer on a pass by Shannon Scott, the son of former UNC All-American Charles Scott who is currently second in the nation in assists.

Ohio State stayed relatively close in the first half on six three-pointers, three by Marc Loving, the game’s high scorer with 19. The Buckeyes shot 50 percent from the arc but only 30 percent from closer where Carolina’s size inside bothered them and led to the rebounding mismatch.

For most of the game, the Heels handled Ohio State’s aggressive zone, staying patient and getting good looks. Brice Johnson had 18 points, making eight of his 10 shots,

Paige finished with 16, Justin Jackson with 11 and three other players had eight each. Joel James, Nate Britt and freshman Joel Berry came off the bench to contribute and, for certain segments, the Tar Heels resembled a top 10 team, outplaying the No. 12 Buckeyes, now 9-2.

Then the helter-skelter returned, free throws wouldn’t fall, panicky passes resulted in turnovers and the confidence disappeared.

“We missed some shots and made some turnovers, and those kinds of things are contagious,” said Paige, who continued to struggle from the field and be less than perfect from the foul line.

Paige did get started earlier than usual, drilling two three-pointers (one for a four-point play) in the first half but finished the game shooting 4 for 12.

The Tar Heels wore retro jerseys from Michael Jordan’s era and posed for a picture in front of Jordan’s statue after Friday’s practice. And for much of the game they looked like some of the fluid teams Jordan played on. They go home for Christmas with an 8-3 record and with home games left in 2014 against UAB and Williams & Mary, they should start ACC play in January with the 10 wins needed to position themselves for an NCAA Tournament run.

Clearly, it remains a work in progress for the frustrated Williams, but the first game of the first CBS Sports Classic doubleheader was much better than the second. Top-ranked Kentucky scored the first 24 points against UCLA and blew out the Bruins.


Tar Heel Women Rebound, Crush Black Bears

Allisha Gray tallied 17 points to help the No. 6 North Carolina women’s basketball team bounce back from its first loss of the season with a 65-36 victory over Maine at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center Friday night.

The Tar Heels improved to 10-1 on the season, but suffered a setback to No. 16 Oregon State 70-55 on Tuesday night. With the loss, the Black Bears dropped to 7-4 overall.

Friday night, UNC stamped its authority early, opening a 14-0 lead. But a three-point play by the Black Bears drew Maine to 24-21 with 18 minutes to go. Gray quickly responded and helped spur the Tar Heels on a 20-3 run over the next six minutes to take control.

UNC has won 18 of its last 19 games played on the Palmetto State’s Grand Strand resort area. It’s only loss in that span was to South Carolina, currently the country’s No. 1 team, in the 2011-12 season.

The Tar Heels finish their beach trip by facing Elon on Sunday.



No. 24 UNC Aims For Signature Win

The No. 24 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 7-3 on the season, gets another chance to show its improvement against a top-flight opponent. This time, the Tar Heels will clash with the No. 12 Ohio State Buckeyes in the CBS Sports Classic Saturday at 1 p.m.

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UNC head coach Roy Williams has lofty praise for the Buckeyes, comparing them to some of his best all-time shooting teams.

“They really do a good job of guys shooting shots that they can make, and they have good shooters. That was like us in 2009 and 1990. Those were two best shooting clubs I’ve ever had. Everybody could shoot, and they took good shots too. They knew their limitations – it’s a little bit of both. It’s a challenge playing them because man, they shoot the ball so well and turn you over,” Coach Williams says.

Turnovers have plagued the Tar Heels all season long, setting up easy buckets for opponents. But that’s not the only thing the Carolina skipper is hoping to improve upon this weekend.

In trademark style, Coach Williams says he wants to turn the basketball game into a track meet.

“We do have a lot of things that we have to work on. We’ve got to work on rebounding the ball, playing without turning the ball over, got to work on running because we’re not running any where near where we’d like to run. We have a lot of things that we’ve got to work on,” Coach Williams says.

James tied a career-high in scoring Tuesday night (UNC Athletics)

James tied a career-high in scoring Tuesday night (UNC Athletics)

Despite UNC’s decent numbers in the rebounding department, Coach Williams says he’s not totally convinced the Tar Heels are dominating enough on the boards either.

“With some exceptions, the other teams haven’t shot a great percentage against us. We still haven’t rebounded as well. I told you guys I thought we’d be a great rebounding team. We’ve been far from it. The numbers look good, but still, I believe what I see regardless of what the numbers are,” Coach Williams says.

Ohio State head coach Thad Matta says his bunch of Buckeyes rely on tight team chemistry on and off the floor to befuddle many of their opponents.

“You always worry about the dynamics of your team – not only on the court but in the locker room and off the court. I think from day one, we’ve had a very good blend in terms of guys getting along. I do believe summer trip probably helped that. I also think when you have really good guys with good character in your program, that also helps them connect,” Coach Matta says.

Sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks has established himself as the primary scoring threat for UNC, especially in the absence of an in-form Marcus Paige, who’s still struggling to find his shot.

But Meeks says the Tar Heels keep plugging away with rugged practices in hopes the game plan will start clicking for the entire team when it counts the most.

“I think our team is looking forward to it. I think it’s a big-time challenge for us. We haven’t beaten a ranked team yet this year. It would be a big win for us,” Meeks says.

Carolina will be hoping their dominance over Ohio State continues Saturday. The Tar Heels own a commanding 10-2 edge in the all-time series, including most recently, a 77-73 win in the 2009 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.


Tar Heels Hit The Beach This Weekend

The No. 6 North Carolina women’s basketball team, 9-1 on the season, makes its annual trip down to Myrtle Beach to take on a pair of foes at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.

First up, the Tar Heels will square off with the Maine Black Bear Bears, sporting a 7-3 record, Friday night at 7 p.m.

UNC will be hungry to wipe off the bitter taste of a 70-55 home defeat earlier this week to No. 16 Oregon State.

Sophomore guard Allisha Gray is averaging 20 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists over the last four games. She’s led the team in scoring six times and has scored in double figures in all but one contest this season.

Following Friday’s tilt, the Tar Heels will get a day of rest before facing a more local opponent , the 5-3 Elon Phoenix, Sunday at 3 p.m..

Both games will be broadcast on 97.9 FM, WCHL.


UNC Football Aims to Stay Focused Offensively

As the 6-6 UNC football team prepares for the Quick Lane Bowl against Rutgers, the offense looks to stay focused and establish some type of consistency, with hopes of finishing the season with a winning record for the third time under head coach Larry Fedora.

Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell says inconsistency plagued the offense throughout the year, and was the main reason they never reached the level of potential he believes this group could have achieved.  However, he still sees plenty of reasons for motivation on his side of the ball; recovering from the devastating regular season-ending loss to NC State being the most influential.

While it may be easy to conclude that players would have their eyes set on winter break after a frustrating season capped with a loss in the NC State game, junior offensive guard Landon Turner says that “nobody has cashed in on this season at all, we’re still 100 percent focused, it’s still 2014, so we’ll worry about 2015 when it gets here.”

Quarterback Marquise Williams spear-heads the UNC attack  (ACC.blogs)

Quarterback Marquise Williams spear-heads the UNC attack (ACC.blogs)

Closing the year with a win to rinse out the bad taste left behind from the State game seems to be the dominant theme in the locker room, but there are still other goals to be accomplished for some of the members of the offense.

With a touchdown catch against the Scarlet Knights, junior wide receiver Quinshad Davis would break his tie with Hakeem Nicks atop the school’s list of all-time touchdown receptions, leaving him all alone at the top with 22 for his career.

Also, the game will give promising freshman tailback Elijah Hood a chance to prove that he is fully recovered from the injuries that have cost him the last two months of the season, as well as an opportunity to impress coaches leading into next year’s campaign.

The Quick Lane Bowl will be shown on ESPN at 4:30 P.M. on December 26th from inside the home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions, Ford Field.


UNC WBB Hit With Season’s First Loss

In a gritty battle of the unbeatens, No. 6 UNC fell to No. 14 Oregon State in a 70-55 loss Tuesday evening in Carmichael Arena. North Carolina now sits with a 9-1 record, and Oregon State is lifted to 8-0.

The Tar Heels didn’t clench a lead once during the match and finally scored their first basket at 17:30 in the first half with a turn around jumper by sophomore standout Stephanie Mavunga.

UNC’s frontcourt was stifled for most of the game due to Oregon State’s immense height advantage. Mavunga was up against the likes of 6-foot-6 OSU junior Ruth Hamblin, who dominated the paint with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks. Head Coach Sylvia Hatchell says her team is still very good, but Oregon State’s defense is one they just couldn’t match up with.

“Our shooting was really, really bad tonight,” Coach Hatchell said. “I think inside the size bothered our inside game because our numbers weren’t good in there. (Xylina McDaniel) was 3-17 and Stephanie was 5-17 and they usually both score well inside. But we’ve got to learn to play against size like that, and they will – tonight was a different experience, we’ll learn from it.”

Carolina trailed at the half for the first time all season at 37-25, and couldn’t manage to catch back up to the Beavers later in the game.

Oregon State led by as much as 20 points in the second half behind consecutive threes from their sharpshooting squad, currently listing three of the top seven three-point shooters in school history. OSU finished 7-28 from behind the arc, while UNC was only 1-14.

The Beavers have now won their first road game against a top-10 opponent in program history. UNC was the highest placed team to fall to OSU since Oregon State upset No. 3 Stanford in 1992.

“This is huge, it’s a pretty great feeling,” Hamblin said of winning and making history. “It’s a great feeling, especially as a team, we executed and earned this. It’s definitely a big step for the program. Obviously what (Head Coach Scott Rueck) has been doing over the past five years has just been progressively taking steps forward and after making the NCAA Tournament last year, I think this is just another step forward.”

Sophomore Allisha Gray led the way for the Heels with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Mavunga followed behind with 14 points and 7 boards.

OSU’s leaders include junior Jamie Weisner with 14 on 3-7 behind the three-point line and sophomore Sydney Weise with 13 points.

North Carolina will travel to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Friday to face Maine in the first game of their holiday tournament.



UNC Gets Back On Winning Track With Dominant Display

The No. 24 North Carolina men’s basketball team used Kennedy Meeks’ team-leading 18 points to down UNC-Greensboro , 79-56, Tuesday night inside the Greensboro Coliseum and improve to 7-3 on the season.

With the loss, the Spartans dropped to 4-7 overall.

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The Tar Heels sprung out to a quick 16-4 lead with 11:21 to go in the first half and never looked back from there with tenacious defense and efficient offense.

UNC head coach Roy Williams was in good spirits, calmly instructing his players on the sideline – seemingly in full teaching mode with the game well in hand. But the UNC Hall of Famer wasn’t pleased with everything. Coach Williams says his team’s 17 turnovers were discouraging.

“We made too many turnovers in the second half, but Kennedy [Meeks] and Joel [James] sort of dominated. We turned it over 17 times. Again, that’s too many turnovers,” Coach Williams says.

***Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame remarks***

Every UNC player appeared fully engaged and locked in for the midweek tilt and even though Brice Johnson got into foul trouble, he stayed on the floor and produced later on.

Junior forward Joel James led the way for UNC in the first half with a season-high 8 points as Carolina headed to the locker room with a commanding 40-19 advantage.

James tied a career-high in scoring Tuesday night (UNC Athletics)

James tied a career-high in scoring Tuesday night (UNC Athletics)

Kennedy Meeks has been carrying the scoring load this season (Nick Vitali)

Kennedy Meeks has been carrying the scoring load this season (Nick Vitali)

In the second half, Meeks started to flex his muscles a bit more, flashing some athletic moves around the rim, but the sophomore says he wasn’t as happy with the defensive performance in the final 20 minutes.

“I think we held them to like 27-percent [shooting] in the first half, but we kind of let off with the 44-percent [shooting] in the second half. We just have to get better each day. Now we have to focus on Ohio State,” Meeks says.

Sophomore Isaiah Hicks provided some quality minutes off the bench, tallying 8 points and 6 rebounds. Junior guard Marcus Paige continued to struggle with his shot, missing his first five attempts from the field. But Paige says he believes his shots will start falling soon.

“I mean, it’s a little frustrating, but honestly, they felt good today. Some of these games earlier in the year have felt weird, but they all felt really good tonight. They were all back rim and right on. It was a little disappointing, but I’m not worried about it at all. The shot feels good,” Paige says.

The under-manned Spartans could do little to threaten the more talented Tar Heels, but former UNC player Wes Miller could use the contest as a measuring stick for his program going forward.

But as for UNC, the game was a chance to exhale and collect itself on the heels of a difficult loss at top-ranked Kentucky and to prepare for the impending challenge ahead.

Coach Williams is relishing an opportunity for his team to hit the practice courts hard this week. With no exams or classes to worry about, his players’ schedules are free.

“Now we get the chance to have some practices that will hopefully be long, long and long. We have no class – no classes to go to, not ‘class’. We’ve got a lot of ‘class’, but we need to get some work done the next couple days,” Coach Williams says.

Next up for the Tar Heels comes a Saturday meeting with the No. 12 Ohio State Buckeyes in the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago.



Tar Heels Look To Stop Spartans Tuesday Night

The No. 24 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 6-3 on the season, will look to recover from a difficult loss at top-ranked Kentucky with a comfortable victory at UNC-Greensboro Tuesday night at 7 p.m inside the Greensboro Coliseum.

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The Tar Heels will be facing a few familiar faces on the UNC-G bench Tuesday night.

Spartan skipper Wes Miller and assistant Jackie Manuel both played on the 2005 national championship-winning squad coached by none other than Roy Williams.

But don’t expect Coach Williams to ease up on his former players turned coaches, especially after being outplayed Saturday at Rupp Arena.

Roy Williams showing frustration (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams showing frustration (Todd Melet)

“They were far more superior on the defensive end than our offense was. I thought they dictated what we did on the offensive end with their athleticism, their quickness, strength and size. We didn’t do a very good job of scoring in the half court,” Coach Williams says.

The Tar Heels have plenty of room for improvement. Coach Williams says careless turnovers, excessive fouling and lack of physicality doomed UNC’s chances last weekend.

“I thought two big keys for us was the number of turnovers and the fact that we wanted to play without fouling. We let them shoot 31 free throws, and I’m not saying that’s the referees. I said ‘we’. They were much more aggressive getting the back to the basket. It’s a physical game. They played better and coached better,” Coach Williams says.

Junior guard Marcus Paige, who eclipsed the 1,000-point plateau at Kentucky, seemingly found his shot in the second half against the Wildcats, finding the basket from behind the arc to keep UNC within shouting distance.

But Coach Williams says he needs to be a more consistent offensive weapon for the Tar Heels.

“He made some shots. We’ve been talking about his shot a little bit. There’s nothing mechanically wrong with his shot, but he probably needs to get his feet set a little bit more. We need him to shoot the ball like that, but we need some other guys to step and make shots also. You’re not going to beat Kentucky at Kentucky when they’re a real good team shooting 38 percent in the second half,” Coach Williams says.

Marcus Paige makes a play at the basket (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige makes a play at the basket (Todd Melet)

UNC’s offensive efficiency has tended to improve in the second halves of games this season. A frustrated Paige says the team needs to find a way to put two halves of clean basketball together.

“I don’t think we need to rely on me, but I think I need to be a focal part of what we do in both halves. The coaches have talked about that. We don’t screen or move enough in the first half,” Paige says. “That’s why we take bad shots and have turnovers. When we settle down and run our stuff, the guys who we want to have the ball are touching the ball; we’re getting inside and also creating opportunities for me.  We just need to run our stuff better.”

As for UNC-G, the Spartans sport a disappointing 4-6 record on the young season, but they’re coming off an 80-79 road win at East Tennessee State.

The Tar Heels don’t have much head-to-head history against the Spartans, facing off for just the second time ever. UNC won the only previous meeting by an 81-50 margin in 2013.


UNC Volleyball Ends Historic Season

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.- The Tar Heels hung tough with Texas, but ended their historic season with a 3-1 (21-25, 25-18, 20-25, 29-31) loss Saturday night in the NCAA Regional Final.

North Carolina dueled neck-and-neck statistically with the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament, as both teams knocked down 61 kills while UNC registered one more overall dig (85) than Texas (84).

“This was quite a battle; I think that was the best word to describe this,” said Head Coach Joe Sagula.

“From the opening set that we played, to the second set that we were able to come back and win, to the third set, my memory takes me to that really long rally that went back and forth – just great volleyball, both teams fighting it out on both sides.”

Much like all season, the Tar Heels leaned on their seniors for a stellar effort in their final match. Lauren McAdoo paced the offense with 14 kills, while Chaniel Nelson registered 13 kills and two blocks. Classmate Ece Taner registered 17 digs, two service aces, and three assists.

The Tar Heels fell to the Longhorns in set one, despite hitting .206 as a team and Nelson pounding five kills in the frame. Texas turned back 2.0 blocks and held the UNC outside hitters to only two kills, with three errors, limiting Carolina’s out-of-system opportunities.

Texas jumped to a 10-6 lead, and then pushed the advantage to five at 15-10 heading into the media timeout. A 3-0 run from UNC, capped by a block from Leigh Andrew and McPherson, cut the score to 17-15.

However, Texas responded with its own run to go up 21-15 late and then cruise to a 25-21 win.

North Carolina responded in a big way in set two, dropping Texas 25-18 behind four kills from Taylor Treacy and three kills from Victoria McPherson.

The Tar Heels jumped to a 5-0 lead in the frame thanks to a strong run on the serve of Andrew, who had two service aces in the run. Overall, UNC had three aces and only one error from behind the service line in the game.

Carolina maintained the lead throughout the set, but the strong serve of Haley Eckerman helped Texas cut the score to 19-17 late. An error by the Longhorns, followed by a kill from Treacy, helped the Heels respond and take a 22-17 advantage.

A kill from Andrew sealed the set, 25-18, for UNC, and tied the match at 1-1 overall.

In set three, UNC fell behind 3-0 early and struggled to catch up in the set. The Longhorns turned out a stellar offensive performance in the frame, attacking at a .298 clip while limiting Carolina to a .175 hitting percentage.

The pivotal point came with Texas leading 17-16 in set three, after the Tar Heels had mounted a 4-0 run to close the lead. The Longhorns won an incredible rally on a tip from Amy Neal that firmly swung momentum and let Texas finish the third set, 25-20, on another 4-0 run.

North Carolina got off to another shaky start in the fourth set, falling behind 7-4 after Texas notched a service ace. The Tar Heels responded and tied the match at 10-10 after a kill by McAdoo.

Carolina finally took the lead at 22-21 late in the frame, as UNC forced an error from Texas’ Nicole Dalton. Another kill from McAdoo gave the Tar Heels a 23-21 advantage, and then she notched another kill after Texas scored to give UNC set points at 24-22.

The Texas defense then made a statement, notching a block after a Carolina service error to tie the set at 24-24.

The two teams then traded point for point heading into extra volleyball. UNC had three set points, while Texas had five set points and finally converted at 31-29 after a Carolina swing went long.

Taylor Treacy notched 12 kills, five digs and three blocks in the match, while Victoria McPherson had nine kills and six blocks. Paige Neuenfeldt rounded out the offensive effort with eight kills and two blocks on the night.

The Tar Heels placed three players on the All-Regional team, as Taner, Nelson and Treacy were honored for their performance this weekend. Haley Eckerman, a senior outside hitter for the Longhorns, was named Most Outstanding Player of the regional.

North Carolina wraps up its season with a 29-3 overall record, the best overall record in school history. UNC, the ACC champions, advanced the farthest of any of the four ACC teams in the NCAA Tournament in 2014.

“One of our missions this year was to be a team that was nationally relevant and I feel like we’ve accomplished that, and because of that I feel like that we’ve gained a lot from this experience and I know this hurts to lose this so close, and to be this close, but you need to be here, you need to experience it, and I couldn’t ask for anymore from any one of these players,” said Sagula.