The oddsmakers gave North Carolina too much credit. The Tar Heels went to Clemson as a slight underdog on Wednesday night, but anyone betting on UNC gave up early as the Heels were dominated start to finish — culminating in an 83-64 butt-kicking — by the hungrier, stronger, more focused and more athletic Tigers.
Carolina’s season-long issues handling the ball surfaced immediately upon the game’s outset, as UNC’s guards committed heaps of turnovers while playing passively on those infrequent occasions when the club was able to run its offense.
The Tigers also were quicker to and with the ball, scoring easy buckets in transition and consistently out-running a team that prides itself on its ability to play uptempo.
Last night wasn’t the first occasion when the Heels have gotten rocked in the first half, but in this situation Carolina never put together a sustained run. Clearly, some of the club’s problems can be traced to ineffective point guard play, as Larry Drew was fortunate to be credited with only five turnovers.
Meanwhile, and perhaps most inexplicably to fans and the coaching staff, Carolina’s seniors also looked out of sorts. Marcus Ginyard didn’t handle the ball as much as Drew but committed five turnovers of his own, and senior big man Deon Thompson also committed five errors.
Anytime the Drew-Ginyard-Thompson battery performs at such a lousy level, the Heels will struggle to have success. And this doesn’t factor in the problems suffered by the other two starters — Ed Davis and Will Graves — who shot a combined 4-for-22 from the field. All things considered, this was the club’s worst outing of the year.
And it’s a bad time to be playing this poorly. The Heels are 1-1 in the ACC and 12-5 overall, and all of a sudden they no longer are a lock to make the NCAA Tournament. Carolina has been a disaster on the road this season, and they’ll have tough home games against foes such as Duke and Georgia Tech.
To become an NCAA certainty, they’ll likely have to compile at least a 9-7 conference record.
The only bright spot against Clemson was freshman Dexter Strickland, who possesses the speed to attack the Tigers and who played without fear. He racked up 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting and contributed three assists and three steals in only 20 minutes of action.
Looking at team stats, the Heels shot just 44 percent and committed an unforgivable 26 turnovers.
Carolina is past the point this season of getting a schedule breather, because every ACC road game — and several of the home games — figure to be very challenging for the struggling club. The Heels now proceed to Saturday afternoon when they’ll host Georgia Tech, a game that will signal a crisis if they should fall at home.
To see the brutal UNC/Clemson box score, click here.