North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams always says teams look a lot better when they’re making shots.
But Tuesday night against Wake Forest at the Smith Center, the Tar Heels proved once and for all that looks aren’t everything.
UNC shot a hideous 5-for-27 from 3-point range but coasted to a 14-point victory, anyway.
“It’s something that you’ve got to get better at,” Williams said. “Guys have been practicing shooting. We’re good shooters; we haven’t made them. You’ve got to be tough enough to step up and make them.”
Though the evening was notable for UNC’s volume of attempts — the most the Tar Heels have taken in a game all season — the performance was not altogether surprising for a team that has now shot just 16.3 percent from behind the arc in its last three games and ranks 11th in the ACC in 3-point field goal percentage.
Despite these recent struggles, the Tar Heels were lured into so many attempts by Wake Forest’s 2-3 zone.
Since there is one fewer defender on the perimeter than in the paint, the zone allows teams to find open shooters along the arc.
“Their zone made it hard for us to get inside, so we had to get the ball outside, and that’s exactly what we did tonight,” UNC forward John Henson said.
So instead, UNC hoisted 16 first-half 3-pointers, most of which were good looks at the basket. But the more the Tar Heels tried, the smaller the cylinder seemed to get. Excluding sophomore shooting guard Leslie McDonald’s two makes, Harrison Barnes, Dexter Strickland and Reggie Bullock combined to shoot 2-for-11 from 3-point land in the first period.
“The main thing we want to do in our offense is get a lot of shots and get a lot of great shots, and we got that,” freshman point guard Kendall Marshall said. “I think the conversation would be different if we maybe hit four more threes, but we didn’t.”
If nothing else, the Tar Heels were persistent. UNC took two 3-pointers, both misses, before a minute had elapsed in the second half. But during a timeout, Williams told his team to try to work the ball inside, where UNC had dominated play to build a 13-point halftime lead.
UNC went six minutes without a 3-point attempt, with McDonald showing a newfound restraint in passing up a 3-ball from the left corner in favor of a pump-fake, dribble-drive that resulted in a shovel pass to forward Justin Knox and a slam dunk that put UNC ahead 55-38.
And yet UNC couldn’t quite get the outside jumper out of its system.
Marshall finally managed to drain a trey 10 minutes later, but there wasn’t nearly enough makeup in the Smith Center to disguise UNC’s unseemly shooting night.
“Shooting is always the biggest variable,” Williams said. “When you shoot it, everything looks great.”
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