Playing its first ACC home game of the season on Saturday afternoon, the 12th-ranked UNC men’s basketball team was thoroughly outplayed in an 83-62 loss to the Louisville Cardinals—its most lopsided loss in the Smith Center during the Roy Williams’ era.
While it was the Tar Heels (12-4, 2-1 ACC) who were the aggressors in Tuesday’s road win at No. 15 NC State, Louisville (11-5, 2-1 ACC) was the one to deliver the opening punch early in the game on Saturday.
The Cardinals needed less than five minutes to build a double-digit lead, and were in complete control from that point forward.
Head coach Chris Mack’s squad was able to clamp down defensively on UNC in the half court—holding the Tar Heels to their lowest point total of the season–while also keeping them from getting out into transition for easy baskets.
In addition, UNC didn’t play much defense of its own on the other end—creating the perfect recipe for a blowout loss at home, the team’s first defeat at the Dean Dome so far this season.
The Tar Heels shot just 34 percent from the floor against Louisville, including a putrid 3-for-22 mark from behind the three-point line.
Senior guard Kenny Williams led the team in scoring with just 12 points and was one of only two UNC players to reach double figures—joined by 10 points from graduate transfer Cameron Johnson.
Louisville, meanwhile, shot 52 percent and also out-rebounded the Tar Heels 40-31, which has typically spelled doom for head coach Roy Williams’ squad in the past.
“We’ve won some games,” Williams said. “But if you think that you can only win when you shoot the ball [well], then you’re not very tough.
“And that really ticks me off,” he continued. “You’ve got to be able to win basketball games ugly. We’ve won hundreds of basketball games ugly, instead of just acting like a pansy and thinking ‘Oh my shot’s not going in.’ If that’s the case, find your mama and hug her.”
The Cardinals led by as many as 15 points in the first half, and managed to extend that margin as high as 22 in the second. UNC was able to cut its deficit to seven right after halftime, but the wheels began falling off again shortly after.
Anything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Tar Heels, who appeared to be suffering from a hangover following their big win earlier in the week.
Turnovers, fouls and defense are issues that continue to plague UNC and it was no different against Louisville. The Cardinals forced UNC to cough the ball up 15 times, while earning 26 shots from the free throw line as well.
Junior big man Stephen Enoch came off the bench to lead Louisville with 17 points and 11 rebounds, as the Tar Heels had no answer for him in the paint.
For now, though, UNC has no choice but to try and dust itself off and get back into the saddle.
Each game in the ACC will present a similar test the rest of the way, and it’s up to the Tar Heels to show that they can figure out the answers before it’s too late.
“I told them whatever they did to prepare for this game, to never do it again,” Williams told reporters afterwards. “That’s what I said at halftime. But it’s my job to get them prepared to play and I don’t think we were prepared to play.
“Didn’t think we had the energy, the execution, the toughness, the sense of urgency,” the coach added.
The Tar Heels will stay home at the Smith Center for their next game, which is on Tuesday, Jan. 15 against Notre Dame. Tip-off for that one is scheduled for 9 p.m.
- UNC is now 1-4 this year in games it has trailed at halftime, with the only win coming in Las Vegas against UCLA back on Nov. 23.
- The Tar Heels’ only lead of the day came when Garrison Brooks scored, was fouled and hit the ensuing free throw in the opening minute to put UNC ahead 3-0.
- Freshman point guard Coby White ended the day with four points and two assists for the Tar Heels, while racking up four turnovers and three fouls.
Cover photo via Todd Melet