The Tar Heels dropped their first game of the season at home to the Belmont Bruins 83-80 dropping to 2-1. It was the Heels first nonconference home loss since 2005 and Belmont’s first win over a top 25 team since 2003. The loss also moved North Carolina from #12 to #19 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and from #12 to #24 in the AP Poll. The Heels were led by James Michael McAdoo who had a career high 27 points with 13 rebounds and 3 steals but his outstanding effort could not overcome the amazing 3-point shooting of the Bruins or a historically bad performance from the free throw line. Here are a few takeaways from the defeat.
Terrible foul shooting: As a team, North Carolina missed 26 free throws for the game, going 22-42. That is six more misses than in any other game under Coach Roy Williams. Sophomore forward J.P. Tokoto went 4-16 while James Michael McAdoo was 11-19, accounting for 20 of those misses. The Heels struggled last season from the line only shooting 67% and those same struggles have carried into this season, as they are shooting just 55%. Those struggles are especially hard for Tokoto, who worked all summer to fix this weakness in his game and was reportedly having great success in practice. However, it appears that he has mental block when he is on the line as not even cheers from the fans could help him convert. For the Heels to have success this season the entire team not just Tokoto will have to improve their foul shooting.
Late game execution: After the game Coach Williams said “I’ve always had the philosophy that if the other team scores to take the lead with more than 7 seconds to play we’re not going to take a timeout”. The last possession for UNC was very sloppy and they appeared to be disorganized in what they wanted to do. After the game Coach Williams would admit that the Heels had not spent much time practicing late situations and took full responsible for the defeat. Coach Williams and his staff will fix this but he would probably go against his philosophy and take a timeout if given a second chance.
Perimeter struggles: North Carolina’s perimeter players struggled on both ends of the floor in this game. They allowed the Bruins to connect on 15 of 37 three-point attempts equaling their number through their first 3 games. Their 3-point assault was led by J.J. Mann who hit five 3-pointers with three in the final including the game winner. Switching on ball screens in the second half after going under the screens in the first half allowed them to stop the Bruins attack while they went on a 22-5 run but eventually Belmont figured it out by and overcame an 8-point deficit. On the offensive end, talented sophomore Marcus Paige is getting little help, other than Tokoto’s 13 points against Oakland no other perimeter player has scored in double figures so far this season. Without the scoring punch of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald, the Heels are currently only playing three guards Paige, Nate Britt and Luke Davis. Without the duo the 3-point shooting has dropped to 33% so far with Paige being their only serious threat from outside. Until both players return the Heels perimeter offense will continue to struggle.
The emergence of Brice Johnson: While McAdoo was the star of the game for UNC, Johnson was excellent off the bench with 14 points and 9 rebounds. He is known for bringing great energy and emotion especially during the second half run, where he scored 8 of his points including a highlight reel dunk off the bounce in transition. This came after a 12 point effort against Holy Cross. The South Carolina native is averaging 12 points and 6 rebounds so far this season. He has been far more active on the defensive end of the floor and on the boards this season. With this recent breakout, Johnson has likely secured his spot as the first man off the bench and will be a key member of the rotation going forward this season.