In a game that included 11 ties, 10 lead changes and a 44-44 score at halftime, as well as a staggering 55 personal fouls, the Tar Heels were simply unable to match Wake Forest possession-for-possession down the stretch.
“The best team tonight won the basketball game – that’s the bottom line,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference.
North Carolina (14-2, 0-2 ACC) cut an 87-80 deficit with 1:24 left in regulation to two points in the final seconds, but Teague (six rebounds, four assists) knocked down five of his six free throws in the final 1:06 to preserve the win for the Demon Deacons (14-0, 1-0 ACC). UNC’s desperation heave at the buzzer was off the mark.
The Tar Heels had no answer for the sophomore guard, who scored 12 points early to give his squad a 25-16 lead midway through the first half.
The Indianapolis, Ind. product connected on nine of his 17 field goal attempts, including three of his four 3-pointers, while adding a 13-of-15 stat line from the free throw line. Williams quite possibly foreshadowed this display on Friday, telling media members that without Ginyard available, he wasn’t sure that North Carolina had anyone that could “make life miserable” for a dynamic backcourt threat.
“I told Jeff Teague, and I mean it, that’s about as good a performance as I’ve seen in a long time against a team that I’m coaching,” Williams said. “I thought he was sensational.”
The Tar Heels, on the other hand, could not get out of their own way on the offensive end of the floor. They committed 18 turnovers while dishing out just nine assists, and shot 28.2 percent (11-of-39) in the second half, compared to Wake’s 53.6 percent. For the game, North Carolina connected on 35.1 percent of its field goals (26-of-74, 6-of-23 on 3-pointers) and the Deacons made 47.5 percent of their shots (29-of-61).
“I never felt like we were going to make a shot,” Williams said. “It was just a difficult thing for us.”
The poor shooting was contagious throughout UNC’s starting five, with Danny Green serving as the lone bright spot, scoring 22 points on 6-of-9 shooting with six rebounds and five steals.
To illustrate UNC’s offensive difficulties, with 10:28 remaining in the second half, Teague already had nine field goals to his credit – the same number that Tyler Hansbrough (17 points, 3-of-12), Deon Thompson (eight points, 3-of-13), Ty Lawson (nine points, 4-of-12) and Wayne Ellington (17 points, 4-of-13) had combined at that point in time.
Wake Forest’s ridiculous amount of size – six players standing 6-foot-9 or taller – allowed head coach Dino Gaudio to send waves of defenders at Hansbrough, who missed all five of his second-half field goal attempts.
“They swarmed me,” said Hansbrough, who grabbed 11 rebounds. “They played physical – bumps here and there. But that’s the way the game’s played, sometimes. If they want to play that way, then I’ll play and try to play my game.”
For North Carolina, this marks the second-straight ACC contest in which it has lost its shooting touch in the second half. The Tar Heels shot 29.3 percent (12-41) in its league-opening loss against Boston College last Sunday.
Lawson attributed the poor field goal percentage to North Carolina not moving and setting screens for each other, and indicated that Williams’ postgame message was that the team needed to focus on two things – defense and offensive screens.
Despite Chas McFarland scoring 20 points and leading Wake Forest with nine rebounds, North Carolina had its way with the Deacons on the boards, posting a 51-37 triumph against a team that entered Sunday’s contest with a plus-9.3 rebounding margin on the season. But while that statistic helped keep the score close down the stretch, in the end, it simply wasn’t enough.
“It’s a pretty simple game,” Williams said. “The quality of our shots has got to be better than the quality of their shots and hopefully we’ll get more of them. Well tonight, we got a few more of them, but the quality of our shots either weren’t good or we didn’t make them, and they made enough.”
North Carolina currently sits at 0-2 in the ACC for the first time since the 1996-97 season, a stunning revelation for a squad most pegged as the runaway winner for the 2008-09 ACC crown.
“It’s what it is,” Williams said. “We’re 0-2 and we’ve got to try to play better [and] be more effective. I told the kids [that] Tyler and Bobby [Frasor] and Danny, their freshman year, we were 3-3 at one time and finished up 12-4, so it is a long season. I’m still looking at the big picture and know we can get a heck of a lot better. There’s no question that the conference race is always our No. 1 goal, but it’s not over with after just two games.”
His players were echoing that same message in the locker room following the loss.
“My freshman year – we lost games,” Green said. “It happens. It’s part of life. Just how you bounce back shows what kind of character you have as a team and as individuals.”
The Tar Heels travel to Charlottesville to face Virginia at 9 p.m. on Thursday night.