WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — This is rock bottom.
As the media poured into the North Carolina locker room for post-game interviews, the man who was supposed to save this season, Cole Anthony, was hanging his head and needed a moment to collect his thoughts.
After a 74-57 loss to Wake Forest on Tuesday, UNC (10-14, 3-10 ACC) is now tied for last place in the ACC and is on pace to finish with the worst record by a Tar Heel team in 19 years.
It was clear that this one stung, and that feeling is starting to get old for Roy Williams.
“I told the team I was tired of coming to press conferences like this,” Williams said. “I told them I was tired of coming in here and apologizing and all of those things, but the bottom line is Wake Forest had more 'want to' out there today.”
The missed shots, poor defense and lack of cohesion that have plagued UNC all season were on full display. North Carolina shot 21-63 overall, 1-16 from 3-point range and allowed 44 first half points in the loss.
“We just sucked tonight,” junior Andrew Platek said. “There’s no other way to describe it. Our effort was terrible, we couldn’t get anything going, we weren’t using each other, we were trying to go one-on-one off the dribble. We just weren’t playing like we did against Duke.”
Williams said that he was disappointed in everyone except for Garrison Brooks, who fought through an eye injury. That includes Anthony, the man that was supposed to save the season when he returned from injury. He had another poor shooting night, going 5-19 from the field and 0-6 from deep.
When asked to describe how his starting point guard performed, Williams simply responded: “Not very well.”
But Anthony’s performance is just a bump in an entire program that is just off right now. UNC rose to a top five ranking in the AP poll at the start of the season, but is now hoping to get invited to the NIT.
North Carolina isn’t used to losing seasons. North Carolina isn’t used to getting blown out by the last-place team in the ACC. But that’s where this team is.
“Carolina basketball isn’t 10-14 or whatever we are right now,” Platek said. “We’re ACC champions, I have an ACC ring, this is what we do, we win. It’s been really frustrating this year, but we’re not giving up on the season by any stretch of the imagination. We still have stuff to play for.”
Even if there is hope within the team, things won’t be getting any easier.
The Tar Heels' remaining eight games feature just one team outside of the top seven spots in the ACC. They still have to play against Virginia, at Louisville and at Duke.
This lost season might hurt the most for UNC's graduating players. They won't get another shot next year, when Williams’ team is reinforced by the No. 3 recruiting class in the country.
“This is my last year, so I’m not gonna give up,” graduate guard Christian Keeling said. “It’s not the season how I wanted it to go, but I’m gonna make the best of it.”
But the reality is set. UNC can’t make the NCAA Tournament without securing an automatic bid by winning the ACC Tournament. An NIT invitation is in question.
“For the players," Keeling said, "We owe Coach Williams an apology.”
Cole Anthony can’t save this team. Roy Williams can’t save this team. And with one of the most difficult remaining schedules in the ACC, the season looks to be all but over for the Tar Heels.
This is rock bottom.
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