No, fourth-ranked North Carolina clearly has a lot more work to do.
While most would enjoy an upcoming trip to the South Pacific, the Tar Heels are sure to do some soul searching on their imminent Hawaiian excursion, after getting thoroughly manhandled by the upstart Broncos.
This was no fluke. With their transition game handicapped, the Tar Heels were no better than ordinary. Fortunately for them, Felton can return on Monday when Carolina meets Brigham Young on Monday in the Maui Invitational
“We are extremely disappointed; there is no question about that,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “You can say I’m ticked off.”
On the inside, the Tar Heels were befuddled by Broncos’ southpaw Travis Niesen, who scored 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting. Outside, guards Brody Angley, Kyle Bailey and Ethan Rohde combined on 6-of-11 shooting from 3-point range.
“I’m not afraid of anyone,” Niesen said. “It’s still five-on-five. They are just wearing blue uniforms that say ‘North Carolina.’”
So much for Carolina’s renewed defensive effort. After falling behind by as many as 11 points midway through the first half, Santa Clara withstood UNC’s best offensive punch and used its defense to enact a 17-6 run of its own to end the half.
Meanwhile, the Tar Heels were blowing numerous opportunities inside on point blank attempts that were simply rimming out. And when the Broncos took the lead for good with 2:26 left in the first half, it prompted a short-lived chant of “overrated” from the Santa Clara crowd contingent.
“The biggest thing is we didn’t do a good job in the post,” said Jawad Williams, who managed just one rebound on the night. “[Niesen] is a left-handed player and was difficult to guard for us.”
Then, in the battle of halftime speeches, Broncos coach Dick Davey won.
A 3-pointer by Bailey, a free throw by Niesen and a layup by Doron Perkins put Santa Clara up by 11 less than three minutes after intermission.
Rashad McCants’ breakaway layup at the 13:12 mark cut the lead to 10 and rejuvenated UNC’s healthy fan base on hand. But two possessions later, Rohde nailed a 3-pointer to extend the Broncos to their biggest lead at 52-37 with just under 12 minutes left.
Missing from the Tar Heels was Felton’s ability to turn up the tempo when their opponent looked ready to collapse. Instead, Carolina was induced into far more of a half-court game than it prefers.
“At some point…when we were down by 15, you could see some of the leadership backing off at that point,” Felton said. “But we’ve got about six juniors and three seniors, so that situation shouldn’t be a problem. We didn’t play the way Carolina can play.”
Dressed in warm-ups, Felton watched and cheered from the end of the bench where he was sitting beside trainer Marc Davis. It was the first time in 65 games as a Tar Heel that Felton didn’t take off those warm-ups.
“There were times when I wanted to cry,” Felton said.
McCants led the Tar Heels with 20 points, including 4-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc. And whether it was due to fan indifference or admiration, the opening announcement of McCants was met with no audible inflexion of cheers or boos – something the controversial junior will likely not experience in ACC play.
“We really didn’t make our offense work,” McCants said. “We really never got to get out on the break. So that really hurt us as far as running a set offense.”
“We didn’t play our best game tonight it’s sad to say,” added Sean May, who added 19 points and nine rebounds in the losing effort. “It’s the first game of the season; that’s the truth. That’s what happened and we can’t let this drag us down.”
For the game, Carolina shot just 36.5 percent from the floor.
“Let’s face it; we were lucky,” Davey said. “They didn’t shoot the ball real well and that really helped us.”
By game’s end, the chant of “overrated” resurfaced as Roy Williams took time to congratulate each and every member on the Broncos bench.
Finally, the infamous “jinx” associated with Sports Illustrated, which dubbed the Tar Heels the No. 1 college basketball team in the land just this week, seems to be alive and well.
And with three pre-Thanksgiving games remaining this coming week – against some much higher-regarded competition – there is plenty of time left for the “jinx” to further flex its muscle unless the Tar Heels are able to cure what ailed them on Friday night.