Lucas: The Defense Rests – University of North Carolina Athletics
Link to story by Adam Lucas
CHARLOTTESVILLE—On a night with plenty of stories, Hubert Davis immediately identified perhaps the least obvious as he sat outside the Tar Heels’ locker room after Tuesday’s 65-58 loss to Virginia.
He did not mention the absence of Pete Nance, who did not play, or the loss of Armando Bacot just 1:18 into the game. Bacot suffered an ankle injury and did not return. Even without the duo, Carolina had a seven-point lead in the second half that disappeared.
He didn’t address Carolina’s turnover issues, with 13 turnovers leading to 19 Virginia points.
He certainly didn’t address history, as Carolina now hasn’t won in Charlottesville since 2012 — when Davis was still an ESPN analyst and hadn’t even joined the coaching staff yet. Not only had Seth Trimble not yet played a game as a Tan Heel; neither did his brother, JP Tokoto. The ACC had 12 teams, and one of them was Maryland. Bacot was in elementary school.
Davis was not interested in the past. Instead, he identified the key to the game as Carolina’s defense — or lack thereof.
“It’s our dedication and consistency to the details and discipline that you have to have to win games like this at this level in this league on the road against a team like Virginia,” the head coach told Jones Angell on the Tar Heel Sports Network. “There were a lot of shots.
The numbers, unfortunately, back up Davis’ assertion. The Cavaliers shot 53.6 percent in the decisive second half, their best half of the season against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent. Coming into the game, they had played ten stretches of ACC basketball and had shot better than 50 percent from the field in just one of those stretches.
Virginia missed its first two touchdowns of the half and went scoreless on its first four drives while adding several turnovers. But then they went on a game-changing run in nine straight trips, making seven of ten field goals, converting four free throws and getting two baskets off offensive rebounds.
The flurry, which lasted 5:41, saw Carolina go from leading by seven to trailing by four. They would bring the contest to a one-possession game just once in the final twelve minutes. Down just 61-58 after a near-impossible 3-pointer by Caleb Love with a minute left, the two Tar Heels seemed to miscommunicate on a ball screen at the top of the key (and also didn’t play it hard), leaving Reece Beekman with a virtually unobstructed path to the basket, which he finished with a two-handed dunk.
As Davis so eloquently put it, to win that kind of game against that kind of opponent in that kind of environment, there just has to be a greater dedication to detail. Are there other factors? Of course. It would have been nice if Bacot stayed under the basket when Beekman drove for his uncontested dunk. The Tar Heels’ road struggles continued, and they are now shooting just 28.4 percent from the three-point line in four true road games this season, and 40.7 percent from the field overall in those games.
Even more surprisingly, the Tar Heels now have an assist/turnover ratio on the road well below 1.0, as they sit down to 34 assists and 44 turnovers in four road games, a ratio of 0.77. In non-road games, the assist/turnover ratio is 1.27.
The opportunity to improve the road stats comes very soon, as Carolina returns to the road on Saturday at Louisville. So far, hot shooting games have been the exception rather than the rule for the 2022-23 Tar Heels. And if that’s the case, it only underlines even more dramatically the need to make big stops, to be fully committed to preventing all five opponents from scoring.
“Defense is defense,” Davis said. “No matter who’s out there on the floor. To win games like this, you have to be tough, work hard and be disciplined. Sometimes, and consistently, we weren’t all three of them.”