The final points of Texas’s 86-83 victory represented an appropriate ending for how the game played out. Leading by one point with seven seconds to play, Longhorns guard Demarcus Holland stepped to the free throw line and missed both attempts before rebounding his own miss and giving his team a three-point lead on the putback.
Roy Williams admitted toward the end of his postgame press conference that he was not in the Christmas spirit, although that was obvious from the moment he sat down at the Smith Center media room dais.
“Guys have got to get out there and box out and got to go after the dadgum basketball instead of letting people run right by you and get the dadgum rebound every time,” the 11th-year UNC head coach said.
The Longhorns built a 17-9 lead less than five minutes in by attacking the rim and owning the glass. Texas scored on eight of its first 10 possessions, thanks in large part to five offensive rebounds. A pair of turnovers represented the two scoreless possessions.
Reserve Connor Lammert set the physical tone early, grabbing eight first-half rebounds. His six offensive rebounds were more than the Tar Heels had combined (5). Guard Marcus Paige was the only Tar Heel starter with a rebound in the first half.
Texas held a 29-15 (14-5 OR) rebounding edge in the first half and finished with a 51-42 (20-15 OR) advantage. The Longhorns outscored UNC 21-12 in second-chance points and 40-16 in points in the paint.
Lammert and Jonathan Holmes both grabbed 10 rebounds, while five other Longhorns pulled down four or more. Brice Johnson led UNC with nine rebounds, including five after halftime.
“They were kind of boxing us out real early, trying to keep us off the board a lot,” freshman center Kennedy Meeks said. “I just don’t think that we wanted it as much in the first half as we did in the second half. They were boxing us out, but all we had to do was go around them to get the rebound and we didn’t do that as a team.”
Junior forward Jackson Simmons offered a more succinct explanation: “We just didn’t have an answer for them with their rebounding.”
Wednesday’s loss marked the third time in the last five games that UNC has been outrebounded by nine rebounds or more. UAB posted a 52-37 (21-11 OR) edge over the Tar Heels on Dec. 1 and Kentucky managed a 44-32 (17-12) advantage on Saturday.
Both Williams and his players harped on the noticeable lack of effort and its role in Wednesday’s loss.
“Just compete – that’s all rebounding is,” Simmons said. “It’s just competing. We didn’t do that. That’s a credit to them, but we’ve got to respond. We know what we’re capable of, but we have to do it every single game. It doesn’t matter who we play, ranked or unranked.”
As for Holland’s final offensive rebound and putback, Williams indicated that this team practices boxing out the free throw shooter every practice. That next opportunity will take place at 5 a.m. on Thursday as Williams noted that NCAA guidelines nixed his plan for a midnight practice following UNC’s third loss of the season.