BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Specks of silent blue in a roaring sea of white.
As the 17,222 fans in a packed Assembly Hall began to noisily celebrate Indiana’s 77-65 win over North Carolina, the UNC men’s basketball team trudged to the locker room.
After head coach Hubert Davis addressed his team and exited the room, the players began packing up for their bus ride to Indianapolis in silence. The few words exchanged were muffled by the sounds of backpack zippers and bandages unraveling.
What else is there to say at that point?
“The reason why we lost tonight is because Indiana was better than us,” Hubert Davis said. “It had nothing to do with travels or the responsibilities our guys have on the court and in the classroom.”
The first eight games of a season by no means paint the full picture of where a team will be come March. But it’s enough to accurately gauge just how well UNC is living up to expectations so far.
And in their first true road test at one of college basketball’s most historic venues, the Tar Heels, by most measures, fell short.
“Individually, none of us are really playing at the level we can really play at — we’ve just got to figure it out,” senior forward Armando Bacot said. “When you're not getting the results it’s tough. We’re going to grow through it and grow through it as a team.”
Just two minutes into the second half, it seemed that the team’s cohesion had already begun to crumble. After junior guard Caleb Love missed a three, Bacot picked up his third foul on star Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis.
On the next play, Bacot tried to post up on Jackson-Davis. But sloppy dribbling led to a fastbreak opportunity for Indiana, where a visibly frustrated Leaky Black registered an uncharacteristic reach-in foul. The animated Hoosier student section sensed the vexation like wolves smelling fear, and Assembly Hall somehow got even louder.
“It gets loud in that place, you can’t really hear your teammates,” junior guard RJ Davis said. “When things don’t go your way, like a turnover or missed shot, it’s about remaining positive and staying together because you don’t want to feed into the negative energy and let the crowd get into it.”
Contrary to RJ Davis’ point, the Tar Heels didn’t stay together. Two minutes later, Indiana’s lead had ballooned to 15 points, and from there, the Hoosiers never looked back. Even though four Indiana fouls in two minutes helped UNC claw back to an eight-point deficit from the free throw line, the offensive statistics reinforced glaring issues.
North Carolina tallied just five assists, and the team now has more turnovers than assists on the season.
In the Tar Heels’ three-game losing skid, any sign of last year’s free-flowing offense with abundant off-ball movement has disappeared. It’s been replaced by stagnant dribble hand-offs leading to isolation guard play, with defenses badgering Davis and Love into contested jumpers with the shot clock winding down.
Given UNC’s 0-3 record against Power 5 programs, it’s safe to say that style of offense isn’t sustainable against higher-caliber opponents.
“We have the talent. We have the pieces. We just gotta tighten our screws up a little bit,” RJ Davis said.
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