It wasn’t much of a secret that life was going to be more difficult for the North Carolina Tar Heels once it was known that 2012-13 leading scorer P.J. Hairston wasn’t going to return to the active roster for at least the rest of this season.
But how far their offense has fallen into ineffectiveness was seen on national television Sunday night, as North Carolina just about completely failed to execute in the half-court on offense in the second half at Wake Forest and lost to the Demon Deacons, 73-67. The game was the conference opener for both teams and one that North Carolina was expected to win, even on the road.
Winning on the road in the ACC, however, is never easy, and it’s even harder when No. 19 North Carolina’s half-court offense goes a long stretch of the second half with more turnovers from its half-court offense than field goals. Early in the game, the Tar Heels were able to survive this by dominating the glass, getting 16 offensive rebounds and only trailing by a point at halftime.
That ray of hope disappeared as the second half went on, though. Even if the Tar Heels were getting rebounds at the offensive end, they weren’t doing anything with them. Through the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Tar Heels scored just eight points, with only a single two-point bucket from their half-court offense. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s half-court offense produced five turnovers, the fourth of which led to a three-point play for the Demon Deacons that made it 49-40. They eventually pushed the lead to 53-40 before a James Michael McAdoo jumper stemmed the tide briefly.
Unable to get much in transition, with McAdoo not getting enough touches in the post, and guard Marcus Paige scoring just three points in the game’s first 32 minutes, the North Carolina offense looked nothing like what you would expect to see from the Tar Heels. Paige was 1-for-8 on the night from three-point range and finished with eight points before fouling out with 49.4 seconds left.
So ineffective and non-threatening on offense was North Carolina that the Tar Heels only shot 11 free throws all night. By contrast, Wake Forest shot 33. The Tar Heels finished with 17 turnovers, including six from their half-court sets in the second half.
In the second half, the Tar Heels finished with just 17 points from their half-court offense (Paige’s shot was their only made three from a set), 10 points in transitions, six on offensive putbacks and two from the free-throw line. North Carolina shot just 39 percent from the floor, including 2-for-15 from three-point range. McAdoo led the Tar Heels with 13 points, while J.P. Tokoto had a team-high 10 rebounds.
North Carolina (10-4, 0-1 ACC) drew as close as three points late, mainly through defensive work that led to easier buckets in transition. But as long as Wake Forest forced the Tar Heels into a slower pace and half-court sets, North Carolina’s ineffectiveness led to an ugly performance in a game North Carolina probably needed to capture if it’s going to win the ACC’s regular-season title.
The Tar Heels next play at home vs. Miami on Wednesday.