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North Carolina

Flat first half dooms Heels in Atlanta

Posted February 17, 2010

The letdown was essentially inevitable. Following a week of intense rivalry games and a century celebration, North Carolina faltered early and often against Georgia Tech, falling behind by 20 points at halftime and ultimately losing, 68-51.

GAME RECAP

North Carolina (14-12, 3-8 ACC) continues to add entries into Roy Williams’ personal record book. Clemson led things off by delivering the Hall of Fame head coach his worst loss at North Carolina, 83-64, on Jan. 13. Maryland upped the ante and handed Williams his worst defeat – 92-71 on Feb. 7 – since Wake Forest blew out Kansas, 84-53, in Winston-Salem on Dec. 7, 2000.

Georgia Tech tried desperately to break that mark on Tuesday in building a 28-point second-half lead, but instead settled for giving the Tar Heels their lowest scoring total during the Williams era. The previous scoring record was set six days ago against Duke when UNC managed just 54 points.

UNC’s 21 points and 22.6 percent shooting (7-of-31) in the first half also mark lows during Williams’ tenure in Chapel Hill.

The Yellow Jackets blew open the contest with a 24-5 first-half run before taking a 41-21 lead into halftime. The Tar Heels shot a season-low 32.2 percent (19-of-59) and committed 19 turnovers against 10 assists.

Deon Thompson guided North Carolina with 17 points, while John Henson posted his first career double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds to go along with four blocks. Marcus Ginyard was limited to 17 minutes after re-spraining his ankle in the first half.

Four different Yellow Jackets scored in double figures, led by Derrick Favors’ 13 points and nine rebounds. Brian Oliver and Zachery Peacock both scored 12 points, with Moe Miller added 11 points on 3-of-4 shooting from 3-point territory.

Georgia Tech connected on 44.6 percent (25-of-56) of its field goal attempts and won the rebounding battle, 44-39.

INSIDE THE GAME

Déjà vu All Over Again

“There’s not a lot to say,” Williams told reporters as he sat down for his postgame press conference. “I’m totally shocked, totally stunned by our performance in the first half. Mentally and physically, we were somewhere but it wasn’t here for the basketball game.”

In the first meeting between these two programs one month ago, Georgia Tech blitzed UNC with a 26-5 run that spanned nine minutes and 42 seconds of the first half. The Tar Heels missed nine of their 10 field goal attempts and committed 10 turnovers during that stretch.

On Tuesday, it looked as though someone had DVR’d that January run and spliced it into the second meeting. This time Georgia Tech’s 24-5 spurt lasted ten minutes and three seconds, providing North Carolina with ample time to miss 15 of its 17 shots and cough up eight turnovers.

The surprising stat of the first half was not UNC had 15 turnovers, but that UNC had 14 turnovers in halfcourt sets.

“We had a turnover when somebody’s handing the ball off to another player,” Williams said.

Runs against the Tar Heels have become a rite of passage for programs all across the great land, and you can’t blame Georgia Tech for going back to table for a second helping. But what is most telling about these game-changing spurts is that North Carolina has yet to find a way to soften the blows.

"I can't put a finger on it,” Larry Drew said. “I think maybe when we go out there and play -- this is how I feel -- the minute a team makes a run on us, if we're not able to respond to that run, we kind of just shut down."

That may be the most politically correct way of addressing the situation.

Inconsistency at the Point

“What do you want me to say?”

That’s how Drew responded to a question about his play on Tuesday. It was a fair response. The sophomore point guard, coming off a solid 15-point, seven-assist, two-turnover outing against N.C. State, had just delivered the worst performance of his young career in Atlanta, scoring seven points on 2-of-8 shooting with eight turnovers and just three assists.

In North Carolina’s 14 victories this season, Drew is averaging 11.0 points, 6.8 assists and 2.6 turnovers. In UNC’s 12 losses, the sophomore is averaging 6.7 points, 5.1 assists and 4.1 turnovers.

“I’ve just got to find some kind of consistency in doing what I do,” Drew said. “Obviously, I haven’t found it yet. It’s disappointing and frustrating and all of that, but I’m going to find it. I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but I know that it will happen.”

During Georgia Tech’s fatal 24-5 run, Drew committed four turnovers – the same number he committed during the Yellow Jackets’ 26-5 spurt on Jan. 16.

But his head coach has refused to saddle Drew with too much of the blame, instead choosing to spread the wealth appropriately.

“It’s unfair to single out [Drew],” Williams said. “We haven’t handled it well. We have turned it over, but we haven’t shot the ball well.”

A Lack of Urgency

Williams did not characterize this contest as a desperation game to his squad, and for good reason – while the clouds over Chapel Hill are dark and menacing, there are still five regular season games and the ACC Tournament remaining to be played.

But that doesn’t mean the boys in blue shouldn’t play desperate every time they step out onto the court. That clearly did not happen at Alexander Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday night.

“If I am desperate, I am going to dive on the dadgum floor for the ball,” Williams said. “If I am desperate, I am not going to turn it over in a handoff. If I am desperate, I am going to sprint back. If I am desperate, I am going to know who I am guarding."

John Henson wasn’t exactly sure what to make of his coach’s comments in the locker room, but agreed that the team’s sense of urgency was lacking from the tip.

“I think we started to play with a sense of desperation once we got down,” Henson said. “I think we need to play like that all of the time and we’ll be just fine.”

Unfortunately, any improvement in that regard is likely too late this season. North Carolina must win two of final five games to post a winning record in hopes of a NIT bid. While the NIT no longer requires a winning record for admission, the tournament has not invited a team with a losing record to play since the rule change five years ago.

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