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Roy Williams is nothing if not honest in his assessments both of himself and his team. Williams made national headlines last week when he called this North Carolina team “probably the least gifted team I’ve ever coached in the time that I’ve been back here.” And while Williams drew some criticism for his candor, his statement is not inaccurate — especially with star freshman Cole Anthony still sidelined.
Then, to add injury to insult, Anthony’s replacement, Jeremiah Francis, was held out of Saturday’s contest against Clemson with soreness in his surgically-repaired left knee, further limiting the Tar Heels’ depth and overall talent. Nevertheless, the Tar Heels never trailed in regulation before an epic collapse in the final two minutes led to Carolina’s first home loss to Clemson in 60 contests stretching over 94 years.
This time, Williams didn’t mince words about his own performance.
“I’ve had some great moments as a coach,” Williams said, “and I’d say that right now this is my lowest one because losing this game was my fault.”
Specifically, Williams explained that in the timeout prior to senior guard Brandon Robinson’s two free throws to push the lead to three points, he had forgotten to remind his team to foul once up three to prevent Clemson from getting the opportunity to take a game-tying 3-point attempt.
“We do it in practice,” Williams explained, “I believe in it.”
Instead, Williams didn’t realize he had forgotten to remind his team to foul until after Clemson was crossing midcourt, at which point it was too late.
FAILING TO FINISH
Nevertheless, although Williams rightly assigned blame to himself for that decisive moment, the truth is that the Tar Heels never should’ve been in that situation, as Carolina led by 10 points with under two minutes to play before three turnovers brought the game back into the Tigers’ reach.
The absence of a reliable point guard with Francis and Anthony out was obviously a factor in Carolina’s ability to handle the pressure down the stretch, but even with Francis, Carolina led Pitt by 14 (12 at the half) before collapsing down the stretch in Wednesday’s 73-65 loss. That loss ended Pitt’s 22-game losing streak in ACC road games.
The bigger factor for Carolina still appears to be confidence; the fact that this team continues to be able to build double-digit leads shows that although they’re not as talented as a typical UNC team, they’re still capable of playing winning basketball. But the indecision and hesitation in high-pressure situations — whether it’s taking an open shot or making good decisions against a full-court press — continue to manifest with a team that simply lacks an alpha with Anthony on the sideline.
Despite the historic loss, there were still a few bright spots this week. Brandon Robinson had a career-high 27 points against Clemson, including 5-of-13 shooting from deep, and has made 20 3-pointers in the last four games.
Armando Bacot scored 21 points against Clemson and went a combined 13 of 21 (.619) from the floor against Pittsburgh and Clemson.
With Francis out, Andrew Platek got his first start against Clemson and played a career-high 38 minutes, pairing a career-best six assists (only one turnover) with eight points.
ANTHONY NEARING RETURN
Carolina’s win over Oregon in the Bahamas seems a lifetime ago — it’s difficult to believe this Carolina team managed a win over a top-10 foe. Then again, it’s not the same team, as that Tar Heel squad was led by a healthy Cole Anthony, who led the team with 19.1 points per game and a plus-11.3 efficiency margin when on the floor through the first nine games.
Sunday marked four weeks since arthroscopic surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus, and Williams has confirmed that Anthony is on schedule to return in the 4-to-6-week window as initially projected. The freshman was a limited participant in pregame warm-ups before the Clemson game. UNC is 2-5 with Anthony out after going 6-3 with him in the lineup.
It’ll certainly be interesting how much the Heels improve once Anthony returns. As Williams said last week, “You lose your best player and your best player is also your point guard, you lose a lot more things other than just a player.”
They’re going to need to be a lot better to make postseason play, as according to ESPN’s BPI Bracket Predictor, UNC had a 1% chance of making the NCAA Tournament before the loss to Clemson. After the loss, even Lloyd Christmas might be pessimistic about the Heels’ chances to make the dance.
FRANCIS’ STATUS UNCERTAIN
Williams said after the Clemson loss that Francis’ status is uncertain, as he will undergo additional medical testing early in the week. “It’s more (injuries) than we’ve ever had,” Williams observed, “but nobody’s going to feel sorry for North Carolina, and it’s OK.”
NUMBERS OF THE WEEK
354-17. That’s now UNC’s record in the Smith Center when leading at the half. The Heels had never lost consecutive games after leading at the half in the Smith Center until this week.
4. With Leaky Black starting at the point guard position against Clemson, UNC has now started four players at the point (Anthony, K.J. Smith, Francis, and Black), the first time that’s happened in one season in the Roy Williams era.
879. Roy Williams has now spent two weeks tied with his mentor, Dean Smith, for fourth place in NCAA history with 879 career wins.
Jason Staples has covered college football since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter @DocStaples and check out more of his work at InsideCarolina.com.