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Cole Anthony’s shooting struggles epitomize UNC's day in loss to Virginia


First-year guard Cole Anthony (2) during the first half against UVA at John Paul Jones Arena on Dec. 8, 2019

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – It was everywhere, written on their faces and etched into their body language.

It was there all day long, only exacerbated by postgame press conferences where they were asked questions they didn’t want to answer and sometimes couldn’t even when they tried.

It was frustration – and after a 56-47 loss to No. 5 Virginia, it was most evident in No. 7 UNC’s Cole Anthony.

The most frustrating part, of course: “We’re losing.”

“It’s all frustrating. This is not fun,” the first-year guard said. "The way we’re playing basketball right now is not fun.”

That was the theme – explicit or implicit – for every member of the Tar Heels. They had just followed up a 25-point loss to Ohio State with a second consecutive game under 50 points, a first for North Carolina since the 1946-47 season.

But things must be especially trying for Anthony, who continued his Sisyphean slog against the Cavaliers en route to 12 points on 4-15 shooting.

On this day, the boulder won.

Virginia’s pack-line defense frustrated Anthony at the rim and left him swarmed at nearly every turn, while the Cavaliers’ Kihei Clark “made him work” all day long, helping force six Anthony turnovers. The sophomore guard had three steals and played all but three minutes in the win.

“For the most part, you’ve just gotta show up and be a pest,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said about limiting Anthony. But when asked about Clark’s defensive effort, Anthony wasn’t quick to give credit.

“Well, it’s tough when you got five dudes trying to guard you,” he said. “That’s always hard.”

It’s been a theme for UNC all year – Anthony, who’s often had to put on a one-man show for the Tar Heels, hasn’t made more than half his shots in a game since the season opener against Notre Dame. He’s shooting 36.8 percent from the floor and averaging nearly four turnovers per contest.

Anthony’s head coach said he couldn’t pinpoint exactly what accounted for his struggles. But then, there was that word again.

“He’s frustrated,” Roy Williams said. “... He’s trying to do too much. Driving too much, it gets too crowded.”

To be fair, Virginia is the most frustrating team in college basketball, epitomized by the fact that a 49-35 deficit with 6:45 to play felt pretty much insurmountable. North Carolina had cut the lead to four earlier in the half, but six consecutive free throws keyed a 10-UVA run and did the Tar Heels in, slowly but surely.

“They try to use the whole shot clock,” guard Brandon Robinson said. “They just force you to play at a slow tempo, and it’s frustrating.”

Perhaps most frustrating of all: though Anthony had a 40.3 percent usage rate on Sunday, he didn’t record an assist. The boulder was bearing down on him, and he knew he had to be the one to push it back up the mountain. 

“I feel like a lot of this is on my shoulders,” Anthony said. “But we’re a team, so it is what it is.”

First-year Armando Bacot, a surprise start after suffering an ankle injury against Ohio State, and Anthony Harris were the only UNC players to sink more than half their shots (Harris was 2-2 in six minutes). For a talent like Anthony, that might be ... well, you know. But he knows that boulder will still be there; that mountain, still in need of climbing. 

The Sisyphus act continues.

“I can’t let it get me too frustrated,” he said. “My job is to help this team win.”

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