Correction (3:15 p.m. Jan. 21): An earlier version of this story quoted Roy Williams as saying he planned to have the UNC team watch movies and hang out together Friday night as a way of getting out of the team's three-game slump. Williams was actually referring to the tactics he used in a similar situation while he was head coach at Kansas. The story has been changed to reflect the correction. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.
In recent years of Tar Heel prosperity, the Matt Doherty era has seemed like a very distant memory.
But with Wednesday night’s 82-69 loss against Wake Forest, North Carolina is faced with something that hasn’t been seen since before Roy Williams took the reins: a three-game losing streak.
With Ed Davis watching from the sidelines, UNC (12-7) got buried by a WFU barrage of second-half 3-pointers for a second straight home loss.
“It’s frustrating,” Williams said. “It’s something that we haven’t been through, something that we’re not enjoying going through.”
Especially damaging is the fact that each of those three losses were to ACC foes. UNC has now dug itself into a 1-3 conference record.
After playing a back-and-forth first half, WFU shooters found their stroke after the break. Thanks to 7-for-8 shooting from beyond the arc, the three-point halftime margin quickly ballooned to a double-digit UNC deficit.
The Demon Deacons (13-4, 3-2 ACC) shot 53.6 percent from long range in what head coach Dino Gaudio joked was the best in the history of Wake Forest. C.J. Harris converted on four of those treys to tie for a game-high 20 points.
“You don’t like teams to shoot open shots on you,” Williams said. “And I think back to those threes — they didn’t make many tough threes. They made wide open threes.”
Explosive WFU point guard Ishmael Smith sliced through UNC’s perimeter defense for 20 points of his own.
While the Demon Deacons were finding nylon with frequency, the home-court rims weren’t so kind to the Tar Heels. Despite UNC only turning the ball over nine times, poor shooting kept its score under 70.
UNC finished the game shooting 36.6 percent from the field, including just 6-for-26 from 3-point range.
“It is more than just making shots,” Williams said. “The quality of shots weren’t good. A couple of times we passed up open shots to throw it to a guy who took a bad one.”
Will Graves led the Tar Heels with 16 points and eight boards. But he said the offense just didn’t flow.
“The quality of our shots didn’t match the quality of their shots,” Graves said. “They guarded us how they didn’t want to be guarded, and we should have done the same, but we didn’t.”
Freshman Travis Wear netted 13 points and grabbed six rebounds in his first career start, and Deon Thompson added 13.
Even if the Tar Heels haven’t lost three in a row under Williams, the coach himself has seen this before. In his first year at Kansas, he suffered an eight-game skid.
His response then was simple — get back to the gym and start practicing again. But he added that now he might employ some off-the-court strategies to escape the slump.
“I’m bringing the dadgum guys in Friday night. We’re watching ‘Hoosiers,’ ‘Rocky III,’ making bologna sandwiches,” Williams said, recalling what he did with the troubled Kansas team.
An early conference hole and an almost assured drop from the national polls are two things the Tar Heels will be dealing with during a six-day break. They’ll also have to face people wondering whether they just aren’t as good as advertised.
But rather than speculating, Thompson simply said he’s looking on to the next challenge.
“You can’t just give in just because you lose a couple of games,” he said. “It’s a rough patch, and the storm doesn’t last forever. So definitely the sun is going to come up tomorrow, and we’re just going to go back to work.”
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