UNC still looking for identity after loss to Wake Forest

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UNC Men’s Basketball was defeated by Wake Forest on Sunday January 5th at Joel Coliseum in Winston Salem, NC.

WINSTON-SALEM — At halftime of North Carolina’s ACC-opening 73-67 loss at Wake Forest, coach Roy Williams gave his team a message that it has become accustomed to hearing — a message his championship teams of the past once took to heart.

“At some point you have to make the decision to outwork other teams,” recounted sophomore guard Marcus Paige.

“This team isn’t talented enough to just show up and beat somebody just because we’re more gifted … You can’t just show up and expect to win because you have North Carolina on your jersey.”

That “North Carolina” has taken on a dual meaning throughout the course of this season. At times, UNC (10-4, 0-1 ACC) has played its traditional fast-break, high-octane brand of basketball, and then there’s that other North Carolina team that lost to Belmont, Alabama-Birmingham and Texas. Williams decried his team’s lack of consistency before Sunday night’s loss, and when the Tar Heels took the court against the Demon Deacons, he was only met with more frustration.

UNC outrebounded the Demon Deacons 53-34 — including a 17-1 advantage on the offensive glass in the first half — and took 21 more shots than Wake Forest did throughout the game. Yet the Tar Heels still fell six points short.

They shot just 39 percent for the game, while Wake Forest shot 48 percent. They attempted just 11 free throws, while Wake Forest attempted 33, making 19.

The UNC that showed up to Winston-Salem wasn’t the same one that took down Michigan State, Kentucky and Louisville.

Which North Carolina is the real North Carolina? Which North Carolina will show up next?

“That can’t be a question mark night in and night out,” said Paige, who was an uncharacteristic 3-for-12 from the field. “It has to be automatic. You have to know when North Carolina’s coming to play, they’re coming to play hard and they’re going to take it at you.”

But it was Wake Forest that played more like the North Carolina namesake Sunday.

UNC relies on rebounds and turnovers to fuel its offense, as Demon Deacons coach Jeff Bzdelik said before and after the game. Wake Forest employed a similar strategy, taking advantage of UNC’s 17 turnovers to score 19 points and outscoring the Tar Heels in the fast-break 11-8 — effectively beating them at their own game.

“Coach (Hubert) Davis told us in his scouting report they wanted to get us to turn the ball over and get us easy transition buckets,” said junior forward James Michael McAdoo. “They outscored us in transition buckets. We’re North Carolina basketball. We pride ourselves in that.”

McAdoo, who led the team with five turnovers, said after the game he didn’t have an explanation for UNC’s inconsistency. He said there were no answers, no “magic potion.”

“(It’s) not flukey,” he said. “I sucked.”

Williams had hoped conference play would bring about a more consistent North Carolina team. He said Friday that he needed his players to raise their intensity level.

He didn’t think they did.

“No,” Williams said after the game. “God almighty. Not at all.”

Williams is still left searching for consistency, and North Carolina is still left searching for North Carolina.

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