BLACKSBURG, Va. — Exiting the court following their 80-72 loss to Virginia Tech, nearly the entire UNC lineup hung their heads, offering reluctant high-fives to trainers and coaches. Junior guard Caleb Love pulled his jersey up to cover his face before dipping into the locker room.
The scene inside the locker room was equally demoralizing, although head coach Hubert Davis would prefer to describe it as “disappointed” or “tired."
Little banter passed between the players as they sat quietly, waiting to be approached by the media. Graduate wing Leaky Black moved to the corner of the locker room and sat with his hands on his head, staring aimlessly into the distance. While players answered questions to his left and right, junior guard RJ Davis looked down and absent-mindedly picked at a bandage on his finger.
The images from the North Carolina locker room after Sunday’s loss spoke for themselves. This is a UNC team that’s made history in the past week and a half — becoming the first preseason AP No. 1 men’s basketball squad to lose four consecutive games. It’s a product of a static offensive performance that UNC has yet to remedy.
It could come down to ball movement, which Hubert Davis stressed in his Friday press conference is a common topic of conversation in UNC's practices.
"For this specific team, we have communicated, talked about, drilled, practiced (ball movement) since the first time we got together as a group," Hubert Davis said on Friday.
UNC has drilled ball movement for good reason, as the team ranks below 300th in the nation in assist rate. So far this season, UNC is assisting on about 40 percent of its made field goals, dramatically below the DI average of 51.2 percent.
Senior center Armando Bacot seemed to grasp this larger picture as he sat out on Sunday nursing a contusion in his right shoulder. When asked if he was given a different vantage point from the bench, he said yes — “100 percent.”
“I kinda see now from that standpoint — like, from y’all’s (reporters’) point of view — just how things sometimes are stagnant, and how we’re missing out on a lot of opportunities and just not fully following all the details,” Bacot said. “So, for me, I thought it was a learning point. I can kinda see now what some people are saying.”
The issues with ball movement started early for the Tar Heels on Sunday afternoon, as UNC went 18 minutes in the first half without a single assist.
North Carolina’s issues on the offensive glass and against Virginia Tech’s ball-screen defense only made matters worse. In that same 18-minute span, the Tar Heels didn’t register a single offensive board. Throughout the first half, UNC failed to get second looks or find the open man in double-team scenarios en route to a 10-point halftime deficit.
While Hubert Davis made it clear on Friday that he expected Virginia Tech to be “very physical and tough on the defensive end," several Tar Heel players stated in postgame interviews that they were surprised by the Hokies’ intensity on pick-and-roll defense.
“It’s tough going against a hedge, especially when you’re not expecting it,” Love said. “We didn’t go over that, as far as before the game, that they do that.”
Love later clarified that the Tar Heels didn’t know “they were going to hard hedge like that” and instead had expected "a soft hedge.” Graduate forward Pete Nance seconded this idea, saying that Virginia Tech “definitely hedged a lot more aggressively than we thought they were going to." He added the Hokies' approach took UNC out of its rhythm.
While Hubert Davis prefaced that he “tries to stay away from commenting on other people’s comments when (he) wasn’t in the locker room," he said UNC was prepared for the Hokie’s effort.
“Anything that Virginia Tech does, whether the offensive or defensive end, they do it with tremendous effort,” he said.
Regardless of UNC's level of preparation, the hedging played a huge role in disrupting North Carolina's spacing.
“I think our primary thing (holding the offense back) is just spacing, just opening up a little bit on the offensive end," RJ Davis said. "I feel like we’re just too close to one another to go ahead and get downhill, make a play for one another. We’re just too close, not really deep in the corners like the coaches want us to be."
Whatever the exact issue is, the Tar Heels need to remedy their offensive woes quickly if they hope to make due on their promises of “championship or bust.”
While UNC searches for an answers, Hubert Davis will start the process toward a winning streak with words of encouragement. Considering the postgame scenes from North Carolina's locker room and the team’s historic losing streak, that encouragement may be needed just as much as a simple schematic answer.
“We had enough in the bag to win this basketball game and we just didn’t do it," Hubert Davis said.
@dthsports | email@example.com
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