UNC basketball’s frustration continues with tough ACC road loss at Wake Forest
North Carolina played like a team uninterested and unfocused for too long before playing a furious and frenetic pace that prompted a comeback that came up short during its 92-85 loss to Wake Forest on Tuesday in Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Early on there was a feeling the Heels would suffer their first blowout loss of the season. There was Caleb Love, throwing a pass to no man’s land that just bounced out of bounds for a turnover. There was Leaky Black nonchalantly approaching the basket after a steal, being fouled and missing both free throws. There was Jalen Washington dribbling a ball off his foot that led to a live ball turnover.
The Tar Heels (15-9, 7-6 ACC) watched the Demon Deacons (16-9, 8-6) reel off a 14-0 run midway through the first half for a 24-9 lead and the outcome seemed to solidified. The Heels trailed by as many as 26 points, which easily surpassed its 18-point deficit at Virginia Tech for the largest margin this season.
Like their loss to the Hokies, Carolina did muster up some urgency. The Deacs got so comfortable with their big lead, they got away from what had been successful. They went to a stall offense to run clock and allowed the shellshocked Heels to start chipping away at the lead.
What seemed a forgone conclusion as Carolina trailed by 20 with just under nine minutes remaining, became a bit of question when they rallied to make the score 72-62 with 3:27 left. When Andrew Carr missed a layup, Love had the ball and a chance to pull the Heels within single digits. He pulled up in transition for a 3-pointer that was short.
R.J. Davis also had a chance to make it Wake fans squirm. When UNC trailed 81-72 with 1:19 left, Davis hustled back as a pass was being thrown down court and had the equivalent of an over-the-shoulder interception. But with a chance to make it a two possession game, Davis also misfired on a 3-pointer.
Armando Bacot, who fouled out for the first time all season, had a double-double for the Heels with 17 points and 11 rebounds. The shooting struggles for Carolina’s backcourt continued. Love had 24 points on 9-for-25 shooting, and R.J. Davis had 16 points on 4-for-12 shooting.
The loss, Carolina’s third straight, resembled last year’s 98-76 beat down at Wake. One of the differences was after the game last season, UNC coach Hubert Davis remarked that the Deacs had the two best players on the floor after Jake LaRavia delivered 31 points and Alondes Williams added 23 points. On Tuesday, Wake guard Tyre Appleby proved to be the most impactful.
Carolina had no defense for the fifth-year transfer from Florida, who seemingly got in the paint at will. And when Appleby wasn’t scoring himself, he was dishing the ball for lob dunks and easy baskets. He finished with 35 points and 11 assists. Appleby shot 23 of 28 from the free throw line, as he delievered each time Carolina fouled late in the game to ensure the Deacs didn’t falter.
The Heels effort, or lack thereof, comes at the worst possible juncture of the season. They’ve been viewed by most prognosticators as a NCAA Tournament team. They could be playing their way out of the tournament.
Carolina didn’t build the strongest resume from non-conference play. It wins over Ohio State is, at the moment, hanging on as its only Quad 1 win in the NCAA’s NET rankings, a tool used in measuring quality of wins.
And with five of its remaining seven games all against teams ahead of it in the ACC standings, it’s not exactly an easy path to comfortably securing an at-large bid.