It was supposed to be the rebound game.
No. 11 North Carolina was coming off an ugly loss to Syracuse to face Gardner-Webb, which started only one player taller than 6 feet 3 inches.
And while the game was a 21-point victory, it wasn’t pretty. UNC turned the ball over 16 times, 11 in the second half. The Tar Heels went to the foul line 33 times but converted only 18.
At the end of the day, the Tar Heels were left with more questions than answers. Specifically, senior Deon Thompson questioned the team’s energy and passion.
“It’s something that we need to change and find a way how to change,” Thompson said. “Find that spark and that energy that we do need.
“I’ve felt this way the whole season. … We just come out slow.”
Coach Roy Williams said his team showed some opening nerves after the loss to Syracuse.
“It was a frustrating game in some ways because in the first half particularly, I thought we were very tight,” Williams said. “These are good kids that always care about what’s going on, so they were concerned about what happened the last game, so I expected that.”
And while UNC’s shooting improved in the second half (the Tar Heels were 14-24 in the second period, a 58 percent clip) the 11 second-half turnovers were indicative of a game that didn’t have much flow either way.
“I was telling Deon on the bench — when we turn the ball over, we turn the ball over in bunches,” sophomore forward Ed Davis said. “It’ll be like four in five possessions. But we’re going to cut it down.”
Davis said that the team has struggled to get motivated for games like Monday’s against the obviously overmatched Gardner-Webb — especially with big games against No. 2 Michigan State, No. 5 Kentucky and No. 3 Texas around the corner.
“Sometimes when it’s not a big game everybody’s not getting into it mentally and just thinking about the next game,” Davis said. “We just need to stay focused as a team and not think about Kentucky or whoever we play next. … Just think about Gardner-Webb, think about Nevada.”
But regardless of any focus issues, UNC still has plenty of time to fiddle with them — Williams is only now starting to set the rotation.
“You want to be perfect every time out and not make mistakes,” junior guard Will Graves said. “And that leads into making mistakes. … But it’ll all fall. It’s November.”
Contact the Sports Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.