In the process, the Tar Heels are now 0-3 for the first time since the 1928-29 season and although there were subtle positives, UNC found few answers to a growing list of questions.
“This team needs to worry about ourselves,” Will Johnson said when asked about how the Heels are handling the losing. “We need to worry about the guys in this room. People are going to say what they are going to say. I felt like we did get better ... but we still lost the game.”
The night wasn’t a total wash for the home team. Johnson, a Morehead scholar who started at small forward, was a bright spot as he nailed three 3-pointers, battled underneath and provided UNC a sound floor game. Freshman point guard Melvin Scott (four points, five assists and four turnovers) struggled with some of his penetration but ran the offense with confidence and made some nice dishes inside for scores.
However, what UNC needed most was a victory and the hot-shooting Hoosiers weren’t about to relent.
Despite having trouble getting quality looks around the basket, Indiana nailed nine of 17 3-pointers in the first half. A.J. Moye (4-5) and Tom Coverdale (3-4) accounted for seven of those treys.
“For a while things were working well, but they kept making tough shots,” senior forward Jason Capel said. “That’s the way basketball goes. I mean, they made a run at us and I thought we showed a lot of character by fighting back.”
IU shot out of the gate by draining a trio of 3’s - two by Moye - and getting a driving layup from Dane Fife to take an 11-2 lead two and a half minutes into the contest. From that point on the Heels played catch up, closing the gap to two at 11-9 after a baseline jumper from Capel (16 points, nine rebounds but seven turnovers). However, UNC would get no closer.
The Hoosiers proceeded to go on an 8-2 run to take a 19-11 lead and closed the half on an 11-4 bolt and led 40-30 at the intermission.
“I thought we played well in the first half but were still down (10),” Capel said. “They did an excellent job of knocking down tough shots.”
Yet the Heels could have been down by more had it not been for senior center Kris Lang. The Gastonia native accounted for 18 of UNC’s first-half points and his tenacity on both ends of the floor (three blocks in the half) was a display of leadership this club badly needed.
“I thought Kris Lang really grew up tonight,” UNC head coach Matt Doherty said. “He’s a senior, but I thought he really took it on his shoulders ans said, ‘All right, I’m going to take control of this game,’ and he did.”
Notoriously a man-to-man defensive team, Indiana had trouble stopping Lang on the blocks. He used his tremendous lower body strength to gain position and a soft touch to drop the ball through the net.
“It was a lot of fun (going against a man-to-man),” Lang said. “Our whole team enjoyed it because we had better flow. It was nice to get some good looks.”
In the second half the Hoosiers managed to build a comfortable cushion by going inside more often. After hitting just four two-point field goals in the first 20 minutes they converted 12 in the second half, often after breaking down UNC’s tiring defense.
But it was IU’s going to a zone that troubled the Heels. Over a 5:46 stretch starting at the midway point of the second half, the Heels mustered just one field goal before Lang rammed home an alley-oop pass from Scott to cut the margin to 64-50.
Illustrating UNC’s struggles to get a good look, the play was called from the bench.
“I think we shocked them,” Indiana head coach Mike Davis said about going to a zone. “We haven’t played zone all year. I changed to a zone and we have never even practiced a zone. Ever.”
Moye led the Hoosiers (4-1) with 20 points followed by Coverdale (17) and sophomore Jared Jeffries (11).
Lang finished with 27 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. Freshman Jackie Manuel, who had some brilliant moments on defense, had eight points and six rebounds for the Tar Heels.
UNC is now 0-3 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Tar Heels lost to Michigan State in each of the last two seasons.
Now the Heels face a situation as rare in Chapel Hill as most of their fans have experienced. At 0-3 UNC is in danger of anxiety settling in, especially among the upper classmen, but if the 40 minutes of fight is an example of what is to come, eventually things should click.
“Starting out 0-3, you guys (media) may think its weird for me to say it, but I am really proud of our team’s effort tonight,” Doherty said. “That’s all I asked of them, to give me great effort – and they did. I think we could have easily won this game if we made some shots. I know that has been a really big if lately.”
Increasingly iffy is whether this team is capable of turning it around and maintaining the incredible trio of streaks that define this program’s heritage. And despite the loss and numerous negatives, the positives may be enough to begin building on.
When a team is 0-3, that’s how it goes. And the search continues.
Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He is also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.