North Carolina coach Roy Williams needed to replace four starters from last season’s national championship team - something that has been obvious so far.
The 11-ranked Tar Heels try to bounce back from their first defeat when they host Gardner-Webb on Monday night.
North Carolina (4-1) has been inconsistent early this season after the departures of Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson and Danny Green. The current Tar Heels are led by seniors Deon Thompson, the lone remaining starter from last season, and Marcus Ginyard, who missed most of 2009-10 with a stress fracture in his left foot.
The lack of experience has been evident. In the championship game of the 2K Sports Classic on Friday, North Carolina looked strong in the first half against Syracuse, but fell apart down the stretch and lost 87-71.
The Tar Heels, who opened last season with 13 consecutive wins, led 39-37 at halftime but allowed the Orange to go on a 22-1 run to open the second half.
It wasn’t the first time North Carolina came unraveled after the break.
In Thursday’s semifinal game against then-No. 15 Ohio State, the Tar Heels allowed the Buckeyes to trim a 19-point second-half lead to two with 11 seconds left before holding on for a 77-73 win.
“It’s frustrating, no question about that,” Williams said. “We’ve got to play better.”
One of the few bright spots for North Carolina in the loss was another solid offensive performance from Ed Davis.
The sophomore forward finished with 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting and is averaging 11.6 points on 75.9 percent from the field (22 of 29).
While Davis played well, Thompson had a season-low 11 points and junior forward Will Graves scored eight on 2-of-12 shooting.
The Tar Heels hope to get back on track at the Smith Center, where they have won 32 straight non-conference games since a 68-64 loss to then-No. 12 Illinois on Nov. 29, 2005. One of the victories in that stretch was a 103-50 win over Gardner-Webb on Nov. 19, 2006, the last meeting between the schools.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs, 0-2 against North Carolina, are coming off Saturday’s 83-58 win over Methodist.
Gardner-Webb (3-0) outscored its first three opponents by an average of 31.0 points, but the Bulldogs will be facing their first Division I opponent of the season in the matchup at the Smith Center. Gardner-Webb lost its last two games against ranked opponents after beating then-No. 20 Kentucky 84-68 on Nov. 7, 2007, and was 1-7 on the road in non-conference games last season.
Sophomore forward Josh Henley had a breakout offensive performance Saturday, finishing with a career-high 18 points on 9-of-10 shooting. Henley, who added 13 rebounds, totaled five points in his first two games.