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Monday January 24th

Defensive struggles leave Tar Heels unsatisfied

<p>Freshman guard Bryant Crawford (13) is double-teamed by Joel Berry (2) and Isaiah Hicks (4) during Wednesday night’s game in Chapel Hill.</p>
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Freshman guard Bryant Crawford (13) is double-teamed by Joel Berry (2) and Isaiah Hicks (4) during Wednesday night’s game in Chapel Hill.

In the 2015-16 season, the No. 2 North Carolina men’s basketball team has intimidated its opponents with a lightning-quick tempo and a dangerously explosive offense.

But in its 83-68 victory over Wake Forest (10-8, 1-5 ACC) Wednesday night at the Smith Center, the Tar Heels showed glimpses of defensive intensity. Defenders swiped at balls, smacked shot attempts and closed out on the perimeter. 

But that’s all it proved to be — just a glimpse.

In a game where the Tar Heels shot just 38.4 percent from the field and 16.7 from 3-point range, UNC (17-2, 6-0 ACC) managed to snag 15 steals, force 19 turnovers and block seven shots en route to scoring 21 points off turnovers.

Despite the impressive numbers, Coach Roy Williams and the players were far from satisfied by the defensive effort.

In the opening half, the Tar Heels held the Demon Deacons to 33.3 percent shooting. In the second half, that number increased to 45.9 percent.

“Satisfaction is not part of my language right now,” Williams said. “Nowhere close. Mick Jagger, satisfaction — that’s not Roy Williams, I can tell you that.”

Williams noted that in the second half, 14 of Wake Forest’s 17 made field goals were layups.

Senior forward Brice Johnson — who led the team with 27 points and 11 rebounds — was the only player to notch double figures in scoring and rebounding.

The senior forward said the team frustrated Wake Forest in the first half, but added that the intensity and focus took a noticeable dip in the final 20 minutes of play.

“We could’ve done a lot better in the second half,” Johnson said. “We allowed them to get layups. They had 14 layups in the second half. We can’t let that happen in games with a better opponent.”

In the first half, the Tar Heels swiped 10 steals and registered five blocks. Those numbers dipped to five and two in the second half, respectively.

“We have really good stretches when we show that we can really lock down,” said sophomore guard Theo Pinson. “That’s what Coach (Roy Williams) is a little frustrated about. We show really good glimpses of us being active and rotating and stuff like that. And we have little stretches where we just let up.”

Williams said he told his players they were improving defensively, but it did not show in the past couple of days of practice.

For now, UNC will continue to be labeled as an offensive powerhouse. But Williams looks forward to the day when his team can flip the script.

“I’m tired of those guys on TV talking about how good North Carolina is, but their defense is not very good,” Williams said.

“I’d like to get a plane and fly around the nation and say, 'You’re exactly right, but I’m tired of listening to it.’”


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