Out of that break, the Tar Heels’ defensive energy was tangible. With a lineup of mostly reserves, they started to trap Louisville at halfcourt, forcing a jump ball and some poor shots. With Coby White in early foul trouble, fellow first-year Leaky Black even got some early minutes at point guard.
But the Cardinals weren’t too fazed and extended their lead to 32-18 by the 7:57 mark — on a still excellent 13-18 shooting. UNC trailed by as many as 15, but a Kenny Williams three cut the deficit to 10 and brought the Smith Center crowd to its feet.
The Tar Heels couldn’t get much closer than that in the first half, though. They trailed 43-34 at halftime despite holding the Cardinals scoreless in the final 2:38 of the half. Louisville shot 18-33 in the first 20 minutes and, thanks mostly to 6-foot-10 center Steven Enoch, asserted itself down low with 20 points in the paint.
Out of the break, UNC quickly got the deficit down to seven with a bucket by Brooks but the Tar Heels soon after found themselves once again down by 15, tying the biggest hole they faced during the first half.
Unforced turnovers and lethargy were common on offense for UNC, which was out of rhythm for most of the day.
As the second half wore on, UNC traded blows with Louisville but that wasn’t good enough for UNC, which found itself trailing by double-digits by that point.
To make matters even worse, White suffered an apparent wrist injury midway though the second half after he hit the ground hard while driving to the basket. Around that same time, Louisville’s lead ballooned to 19 points. Defensively, UNC struggled to guard at the 3-point line but also struggled to defend without fouling, as Louisville took 24 free throws during the second half.
At no point could UNC put together a sizeable run to worry the Cardinals, who looked poised and ready to play following one of their worst losses of the season, an 89-86 loss to Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Instead, UNC was dealt a humbling defeat after winning its first two conference games on the road.
Who stood out?
Enoch, a redshirt junior, entered Saturday’s game averaging a career-high nine points per game. He beat that with 11 in the first half and ended with 17 points on 7-13 shooting. Louisville’s Dwayne Sutton (17) and Jordan Nwora (17) also scored in double figures.
Kenny Williams turned in a team-high 12 points for UNC, and reserve sophomore big man Brandon Huffman made a surprise first-half appearance, scoring four points to keep it a single-digit game heading into halftime. Outside of those two, impact performances were nonexistent for UNC.
When was it decided?
Louisville’s lead was never really in doubt during the second half, but visiting head coach Chris Mack’s team virtually assured victory with a 9-2 run to take a 19-point lead, 66-47, with just over eight minutes left.
Why does it matter?
For UNC, the loss is a reminder of how much they rely on graduate guard Johnson and Maye. On Saturday, Maye and Johnson had off days, combining to shoot 6 of 22 From the field for 19 points. Nobody stepped up in a meaningful way to make up for the lost production Maye and Johnson usually provide, with Brooks, White and Little particularly struggling to get into a groove offensively.
The loss also showed how jump-shot-dependent UNC can be at times. UNC was clearly struggling with its 3-point shooting on Saturday (it made just 3-22 from downtown) but it kept on shooting them anyway.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels stay at home to face Notre Dame at the Smith Center on Tuesday at 9 p.m. The Fighting Irish are coming off a 69-66 win over Boston College and enter Wednesday’s game with an 11-5 record. UNC went 2-0 against Notre Dame last season.
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