UNC made four more field goals (28-24), shot six percentage points higher (48.5-42.3) and outrebounded Belmont 44-29 and still found a way to lose at the free throw line.
While it’s unclear where UNC’s 22-of-48 shooting display from the charity stripe stands in school history, there is documentation of a similar performance. The Tar Heels connected on 33-of-59 free throws against Clemson on Jan. 14, 1956.
Roy Williams told reporters that assistant coach Hubert Davis pulled out the team’s practice stat sheet during halftime to provide some context.
“Three times during practice so far we’ve asked everybody to shoot 200 free throws and everybody on our team shot over 80 percent the last time we did that,” Williams said. “James Michael (McAdoo) was 81 percent. J.P. (Tokoto) was 84 percent, but it didn’t go in for us today. It was a big part of the game.”
McAdoo shot 11-of-19 from the line, while Tokoto finished with a 4-of-16 effort. North Carolina was effective in pounding the ball inside, but yet was unable to capitalize after drawing 31 fouls.
UNC is shooting 55.8 percent at the free throw line on the season. The parallel between the struggles on the perimeter and at the line is noteworthy. UNC’s best free throw shooter is also its best – and only – perimeter scoring threat in Marcus Paige.
The sophomore is shooting at 88.9 percent from the stripe and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc. His teammates are combining to shoot 51.9 percent from the line and 16.7 percent from long range.
“There’s really not anything you can say to somebody,” Paige said. “You can encourage them, but you can’t say anything… When stuff like that happens, it’s out of your control. It’s up to you to go up there and knock down free throws.”
Even so, the likelihood of North Carolina missing 26 free throws again would appear to be incredibly slim.
“I can’t see that happening again,” Paige said. “It’s one of those things that if you played 100 games in a row and ran a test on it, you’re not going miss 20-something free throws or 19 free throws in the first half probably ever.”
One thing is certain – if UNC had shot just 55 percent from the free throw line on Sunday, the players would have likely been talking about a victory in their postgame interviews.
“When you look at the box score afterwards, it’s tough because you left 20-some points out there that are just gimmes,” Paige said. “You don’t expect to shoot 100 percent, but you’d like to make a little bit more than we made tonight.”