WINSTON-SALEM — It was with a straightforward resignation that North Carolina coach Hubert Davis boiled down his team’s latest fiasco to the essentials.
After Wake Forest wrecked the Tar Heels 98-76 in Atlantic Coast Conference basketball Saturday night, Davis said, in issuing a reality-check assessment or perhaps sending a message, the Demon Deacons were powered by the best players on the court at Joel Coliseum in Jake LaRavia, Alondes Williams and Daivien Williamson.
“And it wasn’t even close,” Davis said. “We didn’t have anybody that could guard LaRavia. He controlled the entire game. He punched us in the mouth at the beginning of the game. And Alondes and Daivien, they could get into the paint at any time they wanted to.”
That became one way of explaining another North Carolina catastrophe away from home. The Tar Heels suffered a second blowout loss in the space of five nights to end an awful week, which also included Friday’s news that Anthony Harris, an energy source and defensive presence off the bench, will be unavailable for the remainder of the season.
North Carolina arrived here with the chance to claim a quality win on the road that would’ve helped its NCAA Tournament credentials, and was met by a Wake Forest buzzsaw. This beatdown, after the 85-57 mauling at Miami on Tuesday night, marked the first time in 20 years the Tar Heels have been defeated by 20 or more points in back-to-back ACC games.
LaRavia poured in a career-high 31 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Williams, the ACC’s leading scorer, delivered 23 points and six rebounds. Williamson supplied 19 points. The Demon Deacons (16-4 overall, 6-3 ACC), running and clicking, reached a dominating gear that produced the program’s best scoring output against North Carolina in a regulation game since 1965.
Brady Manek’s 22 points and RJ Davis’s 18 points topped the Tar Heels (12-6, 4-3), who were coming off their worst ACC loss in 10 years. Armando Bacot added 12 points and 12 rebounds for his ninth straight double-double, but struggled to 4-for-12 shooting from the field. Manek fouled out with nearly 5½ minutes remaining in the game.
“It’s hard to say what’s going on when we’re losing by that much and down by that much and can’t get our way back in,” Manek said. “It’s hard to say what’s going on. They definitely played harder. They were making shots.”
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Where does reeling North Carolina go from here? The immediate answer is Monday night’s matchup against Virginia Tech in Chapel Hill, a short turnaround that’s part of a busy stretch on the schedule.
If ever a fitting visual illustrated the scene that unfolded here — or unraveled, in North Carolina’s case — there were the Tar Heels, filing through the postgame handshake line moments after the final horn.
It was a tight situation to navigate. Wake Forest’s student fans, pouring onto the floor, had commenced a court-storming celebration. As the Demon Deacons shook hands, players dropped from the line one by one and joined the joyous mob, while North Carolina players and coaches were left to turn around and wade back in the direction from which they came, shuffling along pressed against each other and the sideline. There was no other room to maneuver with the celebration growing and expanding.
“The energy, effort and toughness wasn’t where it needs to be, but it was much better than at Miami,” Hubert Davis said. “But LaRavia, Williamson and Williams, the gap in terms of the talent of those three, versus anybody on our team, was huge. And so the energy and effort and toughness does have to be better, but (Saturday night) those players were dramatically better than any one of ours.”
Here are more takeaways from Saturday night in Winston-Salem:
Wrecks on the road piling up
Damari Monsanto’s burst of three 3-pointers, back-to-back-to-back across a rapid-fire stretch of 61 seconds in the second half, surged Wake Forest ahead 71-52 with more than 11½ minutes remaining and all but erased any notions of a North Carolina comeback.
The Demon Deacons had connected on 10 of their first 13 shots from the field in the second half by that juncture, while the Tar Heels were spiraling toward another lopsided defeat.
North Carolina is 9-0 in home games this season. Combining neutral-site matchups and road assignments, the Tar Heels dropped to 3-6 away from Chapel Hill. Four of those losses have become linked by disturbingly wide margins. North Carolina has fallen hard to Tennessee (by 89-72 in November), Kentucky (by 98-69 last month), Miami (by 85-57 on Tuesday night) and Wake Forest on Saturday night.
“We haven’t won many road games this year,” Manek said. “I don’t know if it’s got something to do with crowd, if it’s got something to do with everyone’s against us, which I feel like that should motivate us into wanting to be the best we can.
“We’ve just got to play better. I really don’t care if it’s energy, effort, toughness, making shots, not turning it over, playing together. We just have to play better, plain and simple. Everyone can say everything they want, but we just have to play better. It comes down to playing better.”
Jake LaRavia joins the club
The court-rushing crowd provided a lively backdrop as LaRavia joined the ACC Network for a postgame interview, after he put the finishing touches on his career night.
The 6-foot-8 Indiana State transfer went 9-for-13 from the field and 12-for-15 on free throws, and became the newest addition to a group of opposing forwards with size who have stretched and torched North Carolina’s defense.
Miami’s 6-10 Sam Waardenburg pumped in a career-best 21 points against the Tar Heels on the strength of 5-for-6 shooting from 3-point range. Notre Dame’s 6-10 Nate Laszewski nailed 6 of 7 attempts from beyond the arc and scored a season-high 20 points when the Fighting Irish defeated North Carolina earlier this month.
The Tar Heels switched Leaky Black’s defensive assignment from Williams to LaRavia at the start of the second half, after LaRavia had his way with Manek and Dawson Garcia while scoring 18 first-half points.
“We thought we had a good, favorable matchup there, and we thought we could take advantage of it,” Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes said. “But he’s still got to make the plays, right? You can talk about it all you want, but you’ve got to go do it.”
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For Caleb Love, ‘it’s on us’
Caleb Love, whose chilly 3-for-15 shooting from the field hampered North Carolina, said the Tar Heels will need “to have a short memory” amid their stretch of four games in eight days.
Virginia Tech on Monday night, Boston College on Wednesday night and North Carolina State next weekend are coming on the schedule, with all of those games in Chapel Hill.
“We’ve got to figure this thing out quick,” Love said, “because I don’t want to go through what I went through last year. And I know this team doesn’t want to go through what we went through last year, as far as losing so many games that we knew we should’ve won. We know we’re better than what we’ve been playing like, and it’s only us that can change it. It’s nothing that Coach Davis can tell us or any of the other coaches can do for us. It’s on us and we’ve got to play better.”
Adam Smith is a sports reporter for the Burlington Times-News and USA TODAY Network. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @adam_smithTN on Twitter.
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This article originally appeared on Times-News: UNC basketball: Wake Forest’s blowout win worsens Tar Heels’ troubles