Sitting at the podium at the post-game press conference, Hubert Davis was asked about the North Carolina men’s basketball team’s inconsistency following its 78-73 loss against Notre Dame.
The 51-year-old head coach didn’t have an answer.
With a dejected look in his eyes, he expressed shame in how his team played. This is a team with a small margin for error and no wins over opponents currently ranked in the top 25.
And in Wednesday's display, a team that Davis believed in showed no heart.
“As a basketball player, as coach, as a husband and as a dad, I don’t know how to do anything absent of emotion, effort and being the best you can be,” Davis said.
From the opening jump ball, he said there was not enough effort from the Tar Heels, especially on the defensive end. There was no hustle to close out on shooters, a lack of fight to get over screens and an inability to prevent three-point shooters from getting open.
As a result, they had to endure a barrage of 13 triples from Notre Dame — most of which were uncontested.
“They were open because there was a lack of talking, a lack of communication, a lack of effort, lack of attention to detail and also a lack of being able to guard the ball,” Davis said.
But North Carolina was able to keep pace with the red-hot shooting Fighting Irish through strong play inside the paint, led by junior center Armando Bacot. The junior had 16 points and 11 rebounds in the opening half, scoring at will against a Notre Dame team that couldn’t contain him throughout the game.
With the deficit a manageable four points at the half, there was room for a defensive adjustment.
But on the Irish’s first possession, they found forward Nate Laszewski wide open for a three-pointer.
And the Tar Heels’ poor perimeter defense remained.
Bacot also expressed his disappointment with UNC's overall performance.
“They really didn’t defend us well,” Bacot said. “We didn’t play good defense either and they just beat us.”
For a majority of the game, the only members of UNC that showed any animation were wearing grey quarter zips on the sideline.
Sophomore guard Caleb Love — who struggled mightily in the first half — was one of the few to show noticeable emotion on the court when he flexed aggressively after a tough layup. Those were two of his team-high 13 points in the closing half. He played a key role in the Tar Heels’ attempted comeback when they fell behind by 13 with just under 14 minutes left.
But every run the team went on was countered by a Notre Dame flurry, and when North Carolina got its first lead since early in the first half, an open Laszewski three gave the Irish a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“This is a bad loss on our part and we take full responsibility,” Love said. “We keep saying ‘We can’t let it happen again,’ but we have to change.”
Love admitted that they took a 7-5 Notre Dame team too lightly coming into the game and cited that as a reason why there wasn’t a big enough chip on their shoulder.
He also hinted that the lack of a consistent fight and energy is a potential cause for UNC's erratic start to the 2021-22 campaign. Wednesday’s loss showed what happens when neither existed.
Despite being early January, the loss means the Tar Heels might find themselves closer to the NCAA Tournament bubble than previously expected, and will have to handle business in a weaker-than-usual ACC conference to build a quality resume.
So, Davis, Bacot, Love and the rest of the team will likely leave South Bend, Ind. with frustration of knowing they failed to find a consistent identity, letting a winnable game slip away.
“It was just a flat-out embarrassing loss today,” Bacot said.
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