- Robbi Pickeral, College Basketball
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams’ message to his team after its 93-87 survival against East Carolina on Saturday was succinct: The way we played is unacceptable. It will not be allowed anymore.
Prepare for a tough practice, fellas.
Williams said he was more frustrated than he has been in a long time after watching his 21st-ranked team allow ECU to score 61 second-half points -- the most for a foe in the Williams era -- and cut an 18-point lead to as little as four.
Even more irritating than that: UNC’s post players pulled down zero offensive rebounds -- another feat Williams can’t remember happening under his watch.
"I tried," said sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo, who led the team with 19 points and had seven defensive rebounds. "I just wasn’t in the right place at the right time."
That was another problem across the board at the Smith Center.
Whether it was timing and hustle on offensive rebounds, failure to follow instructions when Williams told players to switch on screens or the brain cramp of not picking up ECU’s top shooter in the final minute, the Tar Heels showed they are not in sync with just three games left before the start of the ACC season.
Semester exams might have had something to do with it -- although, it should be noted, the Pirates had exams too and hadn’t played since Dec. 4 -- but it sounds as if the Tar Heels' chemistry is still in a melding state.
"As a player and leader on this team, I don’t think we have everyone all-in yet -- not worrying about individual stats, just worrying about how far this team can go," junior winger Reggie Bullock said. "Like, when people tell me I have open shots, it’s not all about me. I know this is a big year for me, but it’s not about me. It’s about my team succeeding. And if our team succeeds, everything will work out for itself."
In order to succeed, UNC is going to have to figure out how to maintain intensity. And follow directions. And play smart defense. And discern if going to a smaller lineup -- although not, perhaps, to five guards, which Williams unleashed for a short stretch Saturday -- more often is a solution.
"I knew we were going to win the game," said UNC sophomore P.J. Hairston, who scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half, "but we just should've never let it get that close from the beginning."
After freshman forward Brice Johnson opened the second half with a bucket to give the Tar Heels an 18-point lead, ECU countered with a 14-3 run. Hairston scored a big 3-pointer to seemingly stop the comeback.
But it wasn’t over.
UNC pushed the lead back to 18 only to have the Pirates chip it to 10.
The Tar Heels got it back to 13 only to have ECU slice it down to eight.
"We battled," said ECU coach Jeff Lebo, a former guard for the Tar Heels.
UNC seemed to have a comfy 11-point cushion with 70 seconds left -- until the Tar Heels failed to pick up guard Akeem Richmond, the Pirates' biggest 3-point threat who finished with 17 points. The ECU junior bookended a Dexter Strickland free throw with two 3-pointers to cut UNC's lead to four.
Had a couple more minutes remained, who knows.
As it was, the Tar Heels, which shot 55.2 percent in the first half, were able to survive despite getting outscored by 10 points in the second.
But the win didn't seem like much of a step forward for anyone on the team.
"We want to be ready and focused every game we play, so when we play like that it’s kind of frustrating," Strickland said. "It’s just something you’ve got to learn from, something you’ve got to build on."
And fairly quickly -- especially if an unhappy Williams has anything to say about it.
"Right now, there’s not anything Ol’ Roy’s ecstatic about," Williams said. "Let’s put it that way."
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