The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Friday December 9th

Losses Leaving UNC Dumbfounded

As North Carolina's season worsens and records fall, the team continues to look for signs of improvement.

The team turned east for Chapel Hill after an excruciating loss at Wake Forest just as 33-year-old Dean Smith's team had 37 years earlier.

When the 1964-65 Tar Heels arrived, they found their coach hung in effigy outside Woollen Gym. This season, the hanging had already taken place on several occasions.

Members of the Demon Deacons' band toted around a reminder just in case the Tar Heels had forgotten. The mounted ram's head with a noose around the neck said it all.

The severe beatings administered this season have been suffocating. The Tar Heels (6-14, 2-8 in the ACC) can barely fit their fingers beneath the rope for a gasp of air.

Coach Matt Doherty struggled to find words after Wednesday's 90-66 loss, which tied the UNC record for ACC losses in a season.

"It's difficult to, uh, talk about this game," Doherty said with hesitation in his voice and shock and frustration on his face. "It was just an awful performance."

One of many. The Tar Heels' conference losses have come by an average margin of 19 points; their nine 2002 defeats by 20.4 points. They rank dead last in the ACC in scoring offense, scoring margin, rebounding margin, turnover margin, rebounding defense and steals. They also rank next to last in field-goal percentage, scoring defense, field-goal-percentage defense, rebounding offense and offensive rebounds.

All that adds up to a last-place tie and little left to fight for except not landing in the ACC Tournament's play-in game.

"We don't really discuss if this is the bottom or what can happen from here," Adam Boone said. "We just have to get better. It's simple, but it's been difficult for us."

The signs are everywhere. The knick-knack injuries of the beleaguered players: Jason Capel's sore elbow, Brian Morrison's sprained ankle, Jackie Manuel's foot stress reaction. An official on Wednesday forced Doherty to take Will Johnson out at one point because of a bloody sore on his knee.

As the Tar Heels broke a timeout huddle, a cup of ice spilled onto the court, and a team manager had to wipe the mess before action resumed. The tape holding up Kris Lang's right sock around his calf came undone, and the white tube remained in a bunch around his ankle despite efforts to fix it at halftime. The sock has had a hole in it most of the season, anyhow.

"It's a very trying time for us right now. It tests our character and our belief," said Lang, less light-hearted than usual in the locker room. On the legs of his practice spandex undershorts, Lang has written "Believe" and "Be Proud."

As reporters were allowed into the locker room, Capel sat in the corner with a towel over his head. Shortly thereafter he hit the showers, not fielding any questions.

"What people are looking for now is to see what we're going to do," Lang said. "Are we going to pack it in or keep playing hard?"

Losing by so much so often has been the hard part. Ten losses have come by double figures, six by 20 or more and two by more than 30.

"It takes a big toll," Doherty said. "If you have to choose, you'd prefer to lose on a last-second shot than get beaten this way."

Team after team has hung UNC out to dry. When the Tar Heels last faced Wake and Maryland back-to-back, they lost by a combined 55 points. The No. 3 Terrapins will be at the Smith Center on Sunday evening, nooses in hand. A loss then breaks the school record for ACC blemishes and ties the one for overall defeats.

"It is difficult when you're losing, but at the same time you have to have some pride," Boone said. "You can't let a team jump all over you."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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