CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — It appears North Carolina found a silver lining in its worst loss of the season.
On Jan. 2, North Carolina was riding high entering into its first ACC home game. Following a big road win over Pittsburgh and a meaningful victory against N.C. State in PNC Arena, the Tar Heels were feeling good about their chances against the Cardinals.
Instead, UNC was served a healthy portion of humble pie in the 83-62 loss to the Cardinals. It was the largest home loss in 16 seasons under Roy Williams. The postgame statistics were sobering. The Tar Heels had season lows in field goals (20), field goal attempts (58), field goal percentage (.345), field goal percentage in a half (.308 in the second), three-pointers (3), three-point percentage (.136), rebounds (31), assists (tied, 13), points (62) and points in a half (28 in the second).
The loss was a reality check. The Tar Heels were ineffective on both sides of the court and nothing seemed to work. They were hit in the mouth early and didn’t respond.
“We never really got into the game,” Roy Williams said in his postgame press conference. “I’d like to give you a brilliant answer as to why, but I can’t give you that brilliant answer. Two days ago at practice, I said it was a very mediocre practice, and we needed a great one yesterday, and I thought it was very mediocre, as well. So, that’s my job to get them prepared better.”
Since then, the Tar Heels have used the loss to Louisville and those moments as not only motivation but a reminder that they have to display the necessary energy and effort every game and every possession.
“We did use it,” Kenny Williams said after Monday’s win over the Hokies. “Going into this game, we didn’t want to come in and let that happen again. So we used that game and we can use it as a reference point the rest of the season.”
UNC is now on a three-game winning streak and dominated Virginia Tech on Monday night in a 103-82 victory. The Tar Heels are 15-4 overall, 5-1 in the ACC, and tied at the top of the conference standings.
It was a hard lesson to learn, but games like the Louisville loss can wake a team up. It forced UNC to realize that no team in the ACC can be taken for granted.
After that game, senior wing Cameron Johnson was ready to put the loss behind him, move on, and practice to get better. In that moment he knew his team still has a lot of work to do to get where they want to be.
“Sometimes when things are going south, sometimes it’s hard to fight,” Cameron Johnson said after the Louisville loss. “We’ve just gotta do a better job with that. (Louisville) really took it to us today and we gotta be better. We gotta come out and play again and we gotta come out and practice again.”
The team recommitted to practicing with a purpose. Coach Williams has complemented his team’s effort in practices during recent weeks. That extra effort and knowing the focus it takes has translated onto the court with three straight wins.
After the win over the Hokies, Tar Heel players understood that the Louisville game can’t be forgotten. “I think it should be a big one because we figured out what can happen,” Kenny Williams said. “We got hit with some reality that game.”