CHAPEL HILL — After a week of frustration, North Carolina finally made its return to the basketball court.
For seven days, the Tar Heels had been forced to relive a blowout loss and read the quotes from their coach as Roy Williams said he was more frustrated than any point in his career. The ugly underbelly of social media showed itself too, with a fringe of the fanbase believing one loss had sunk the program for good.
“You can get away from it, but they’re going to find a way to tell you how they feel and you never really hear anything good from social media,” senior guard Kenny Williams said. “They’re quick to put you down, but when it comes to picking you up and telling you did something good, its’ slow with it, like their hands stop working.”
After 20 minutes against UNC Wilmington on Wednesday night, things hadn’t gotten much better for Carolina.
“I told them we sucked,” the elder Williams said of his halftime speech as the Tar Heels stumbled to a 44-35 lead.
His brevity was apparently effective, as Carolina looked like a new team on the defensive end, forcing 15 second half turnovers on its way to a 97-69 victory over the Seahawks.
“Two totally different (ends of the) spectrum,” Williams said. “We started off with some energy then kind of got back in to that lazy defense kind of mode, then in the second half we were engaged the whole time.”
In all, UNCW had 25 turnovers and shot 35 percent from the field — an encouraging step after allowing Michigan to shoot 57 percent with just seven turnovers as the Wolverines dominated in an 84-67 victory on Nov. 29.
“It was a lot better; still not where we want to be, it took steps forward, I think,” Williams said. “We did a lot better job on the defensive end just making it hard for them and creating turnovers.”
It hasn’t been an easy season thus far in Chapel Hill.
Despite lopsided results, Williams has been quick to voice his displeasure with his team for one reason or another — it’s been pace, focus and ball screen defense, but mostly, it’s been effort.
Wednesday, there was even a printer mishap with the final box score and a time-keeping error in the locker room at halftime, with the Tar Heels only returning to the floor with 30 seconds remaining.
“We’ve got printer problems, we’ve got defensive problems, turnover problems,” Williams said. “Damn manager can’t count five minutes left in the halftime. I didn’t know how much time there was.”
It’s a strange feeling, this cloud lingering in the Smith Center, despite a 28-point victory. But it’s also one of optimism, considering the Tar Heels feel like they haven’t come close to playing great basketball.
It’s a necessary feeling for a championship-level program.
“I don’t think we’ve put together 40 minutes yet, at the point we want it to be,” Kenny Williams said. “Once we get that, it’ll be hard to stop us on both ends. We can score the ball with the best of them, but if we can stop teams from soring, that makes it that much easier for us.”
There’s plenty of evidence to support that for the Tar Heels, who put up 97 points on a ho-hum night that saw them commit 15 turnovers — several of which were completely unforced.
Now, Carolina turns its attention to Dec. 15, when it will play host to No. 1 Gonzaga.
Over the next nine days, the exam schedule will keep the Tar Heels from practicing as much they’d like. They’ll run and shoot on Friday, then go through a full practice on Sunday before holding just one between Monday and Wednesday.
“The practices we do have, we have to make them great,” Williams said.
The victory over UNCW was a step forward, but next time the step on the floor, Johnson is expecting Carolina to have made several more.
“We don’t have a choice honestly,” he said. “For us to go out there and play we played against Michigan, that would be unacceptable. Coach showed us that; we don’t have a choice but to be ready.”