Tar Heels fall to Vanderbilt — what now? | Sports

Tar Heels fall to Vanderbilt — what now?

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Only four games into the season, and North Carolina already is being forced to stave off a public relations disaster. The Tar Heels have lost two in a row, most recently suffering through a 72-65 defeat at the hands of Vanderbilt on Sunday in the consolation match of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

The Tar Heels were nothing short of brutal offensively. Carolina shot a miserable 41 percent from the field and hit only 27 percent on threes. The starting perimeter trio — Larry Drew, Dexter Strickland and Harrison Barnes — combined for 9-for-23, and off the bench Leslie McDonald hit just 2-for-7.

Tyler Zeller was a bright spot in what so far has been a dark season. He scored 20 points and yanked down 10 rebounds, largely unassisted by fellow big man John Henson, who found his way into Roy Williams’ doghouse after committing six turnovers and shooting only 2-for-6 from the foul line.

The trip to Puerto Rico was billed as one that would reinstall Carolina confidence to a new core of players, but instead it facilitated the ugly re-emergence of the issues that plagued the team throughout last season.

Namely, who’s going to shoot from the perimeter? Freshman Reggie Bullock is the only player on the team who looks confident with his three-point shot, but he has made too many errors to earn more than 15-to-18 minutes of game action. Barnes and McDonald simply have to come around in order for Carolina to compete against ACC foes.

The point guard issue also continues to frustrate fans. The emerging consensus is that freshman Kendall Marshall has outplayed junior starter Drew, and the negativity surrounding the team may force Williams to make a change more quickly than he’d prefer. Meanwhile, Henson arguably was the team’s best player through the first three contests, but he face-planted against Vanderbilt. Can he be consistent?

For his part, Williams says (at least publicly) that he’s more upbeat about this team than last year’s based on its improved talent level. Of course, at this point last year Carolina still appeared to be a solid club, so that statement may have been intended mostly as a confidence booster for a shaken group of players.

UNC’s team defense actually was very good in the second half against the Commodores, holding them to only 32 percent from the floor. Those who choose to remain optimistic will correctly point to the vastly superior defensive potential of the 2010-11 Tar Heels to the previous team.

The top priority now is to respond positively to the adversity and show renewed purpose to competing.

Continuing the onslaught of games, Carolina will take the court Tuesday night at home against UNC-Asheville. To see the UNC/Vanderbilt box score, click here.

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