ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Not all losses are created equal.
While an added tally in the win column certainly looks better than a morally victorious drop to 3-1, for a still-developing North Carolina basketball team that has a long way to go until March, the second half of Wednesday’s loss in the Maui Invitational final posed some answers to problems that have ailed UNC throughout the young season.
Starting off with the bad — UNC has an efficiency issue. The Tar Heels shot just 11 percent from 3-point land in their 69-67 loss to Texas on Wednesday. Free throw shooting wasn’t much better — UNC hit at just over a 56 percent clip on 32 attempts.
First-year guard Caleb Love — the heir to a point guard legacy that has led North Carolina to its greatest heights under head coach Roy Williams — represented this more than anyone on Wednesday. In 30 minutes, the guard went 2-for-13 from the field, 0-3 from three and committed four of UNC’s 14 turnovers.
“Well I hope (Love) learned not turning it over, not taking bad shots and you’ve got to shoot a higher percentage,” Williams said. “But I love him to death as a kid, he’s gonna work really hard and I think he will learn those things.”
Now, the good. At halftime, UNC was down by 12 after a dominant run from the Longhorns in the last 10 minutes of the frame. After outscoring Texas 39-29 in the second, it took a contested midrange jumper from Matt Coleman III to put the Longhorns over the top with 0.1 remaining.
“In the first half we came out really flat, just not playing hard and not competing,” sophomore forward Armando Bacot said. “Unfortunately we just lost on a last second shot, I mean there were a lot of things we could’ve done better like make free throws and just simple plays. I can say we just learned that we need to just stay playing hard the whole game.”
The Tar Heels’ first half performance was lackluster, to say the least. But in the second, they found an answer to their offensive woes: feed the post.
North Carolina’s rotation of bigs is composed of three former McDonald’s All-Americans and preseason ACC Player of the Year Garrison Brooks. The quartet combined for just 13 points in the opening frame. In the second, they composed four of UNC’s top six scorers and accounted for nearly 70 percent of the Tar Heels’ scoring.
“I would say first with the bigs we could do a better job of just fighting for position and trying to get the ball lower, because obviously that’s one of our strong suits,” Bacot said. “But also just trying to get the guards to target and the guards just bringing it down more.”
Love and North Carolina’s six-member barrage of first-years seeing major minutes have been inconsistent. But when they’re on, they impact the game in a fashion that should lead to a lot of wins as they become more adept with Williams’ system.
North Carolina has joined blue blood powers like Duke, Kentucky and Kansas in entering the era of the one-and-done. In the past, Williams’ most dominant sides have been led by three- and four-year players that showed their excellence from the season’s start.
With a starting back back court composed of two first-years and the main spark plugs off the bench being Sharpe and Kessler, this season was never going to be that — regardless of the heights UNC reaches by March.
“We’re still learning, still getting better as a team,” Brooks said. “It’s an everyday process to keep working every day, get used to how everybody plays.”
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