A late second-half lineup featuring K.J. Smith, Shea Rush and Brandon Huffman against the No. 6 team in the country was evidence enough.
The same could go for Justin Pierce taking a deep heat-check 3-pointer; sub-30 percent shooting in both halves for the first time since the dreaded 2017 Michigan State game; and the fact that Coby White’s “I’m a Tar Heel” video garnered more applause than anything on the court.
Most emblematic, though, of No. 7 North Carolina’s 74-49 loss to Ohio State was the steady stream of fans leaving upper and lower decks alike far before game’s end, as the Smith Center transformed from a hive of last-day-of-classes energy to the polar opposite.
“The head basketball coach at North Carolina did a sorry-ass job tonight,” said Roy Williams, the head basketball coach at North Carolina. “I looked up in the stands, saw people leaving with four, five, six minutes left in the game, and I didn’t blame them.”
By late Wednesday night, it had devolved into a laundry list of bad stats. The 49 points were the third-fewest in Smith Center history. The 25-point loss was the second worst in Smith Center history. The final field goal percentage of 27.4 and second-half scoring margin of Ohio State plus-23 — see where this is going? — set new worsts for UNC’s current venue, which it has used since 1986.
“We didn't play how we were supposed to,” junior forward Garrison Brooks said. “We were just going through the motions.”
Brooks noted last season’s 21-point home loss to Louisville, the worst for UNC under Williams until Ohio State trumped it. In that loss, he said, they were never in it. He felt like they were in this one.
That much was true. UNC and Ohio State played an interesting first half that swung between scoring bursts and defensive stands. First-year Cole Anthony shot just 2-10 in those 20 minutes, but the makes — consecutive 3-pointers to cut UNC’s deficit to 25-22 — were timely.
When halftime came, UNC was shooting 28.6 percent and had been out-rebounded 26-17. Yet the Tar Heels only trailed 29-27. Williams couldn’t believe it.
“I felt like I'd stolen something,” he said. “Needless to say, it got worse.”
The Buckeyes — who rode a talented combination of guard Duane Washington Jr. and forward Kaleb Wesson all night — started the second half hot. But Anthony again sank consecutive threes to cut their lead to 39-36. Nine consecutive Ohio State points later, it was a distant memory.
“We've got to execute,” Pierce, a graduate forward, said. “We’re not doing what we're being asked to do right now. We’ve just got to get a lot better in all phases of the game. Can’t let teams go on runs like that.”
Pierce, in a candid postgame interview, said his current shooting slump was the worst of his life and voluntarily offered that UNC’s current team has been one of the worst, scoring wise, in program history.
He’s not wrong.
Not since 1949-50 have the Tar Heels scored fewer than 80 points in their first eight games. UNC has also shot under 50 percent from the floor in all eight games for the first time since 1959-60. Why?