Then consider what the Bulldogs did offensively against North Carolina, and without hesitation substitute Auryn MacMillen with Jerai Grant, C.J. Hailey with Tanner Smith and Brian McNair with Demontez Stitt. And this isn’t even bothering with stud Trevor Booker, David Potter or any of the other talented Tigers.
What would the final score have been at the Smith Center?
It finished as a 93-72 Tar Heels’ victory, but was this a quality performance on the defensive end?
No, it wasn’t.
As Roy Williams said after the game, Gardner-Webb just wasn’t as gifted as Carolina. Yet, the Bulldogs managed to get plenty of good looks at the basket. They turned it over 22 times – 14 by halftime – but most of their field goal attempts were pretty nice looks and not often challenged when they held onto the ball.
“Coach gives us plays and things to do, and we’re not really executing the way he wants us to right now,” Deon Thompson said. “But, I don’t want to give the excuse that we’re young, but we have to be more accountable on the game.”
The Bulldogs were an impressive 15-for-36 from 3-point range (41.7 percent), and that includes some forced shots near the end of the contest. In reality, about 30 of their attempts from beyond the arc weren’t that contested by the home team.
One Bulldog, Grayson Flittner, was 9-for-16 and finished with 32 points. It isn’t like he’s the second coming of J.J. Redick or anything. He has a nice stroke and was adept at getting off quick shots and at times moving Carolina defenders’ feet allowing for more separation.
But he’s an average guard for the small-time Big South Conference, not an ACC stud. We’re talking about a 6-foot senior guard who came in averaging 7.7 points and had made just 5-of-20 3-point attempts. UNC, though, allowed him to remind Dean Dome fans of previous performances by some of the ACC’s all-time greats.
“When a guy’s shooting it like that you have to make him put it on the floor and make him (show you) if he can do something else,” Williams said. “Still, he’s got to make the shots.
“He’s wide open there in the corner and there’s nobody within 10 feet of him; we’ve all seen some guys miss those shots as well. It was a big-time shooting night for him and then we didn’t do as good a job as we need to, particularly in the first half.”
Marcus Ginyard said UNC’s defensive rotation was “poor” and that the Heels were always a “step behind.”
“There’s no question he’s a great shooter, but as coach was saying, we were just giving him more space than we needed to,” Ginyard said. “We weren’t making shots on the perimeter as difficult as they could have been.”
Thompson said at some point it has to become personal.
“Guys have to take more pride,” he said. “If somebody is sitting there having 32 on you, you have to have more pride wanting to guard somebody.”
Even if you take away Flittner’s 3s, the rest of the Bulldogs were still 6-of-20 (30 percent), and considering they came into the game shooting 28 percent as a team after dates with non-Division I squads Covenant, Montreat and Methodist, this has to rank as an unacceptable performance for UNC.
“It wasn’t good,” Tyler Zeller said.
A question following the Valparaiso game eight days ago was if UNC’s defensive issues were a willingness issue or a physically-can’t-do-it issue. This problem has flared up again against a lesser opponent, and the question remains. If it continues, it might soon be the latter, and that’s not good for UNC’s prospects.
Heck, Gardner-Webb, whose four-man was 6-3, managed to get off 19 shots around the rim, making only seven. There’s little doubt that Clemson, Florida State, Miami, or pretty much any other ACC team would have been more successful.
And that is how UNC fans need to view these games. Imagine the Heels are facing conference foes, and if the future looks better each week, you know the defense is improving. If it isn’t, there might be real reason for concern.