The Demon Deacons (13-4, 3-2 ACC) used an early 10-0 run to build a 26-18 lead midway through the first half, but the Tar Heels (12-7, 1-3 ACC) fought back to cut their deficit to 36-33 at the break.
North Carolina inched within 40-39 in the opening minutes of the second half, but Wake Forest freshmen C.J. Harris and Ari Stewart spurred an 18-6 run with hot shooting from 3-point territory to open a double-digit lead that UNC would cut to single digits just once over the final 11:46.
The Demon Deacons connected on seven of their eight 3-pointers after intermission, en route to a 9-of-16 display for the game.
Ish Smith and Harris paced Wake Forest with 20 points each, while Will Graves led North Carolina with 16 points and eight rebounds.
UNC shot 36.6 percent (26-of-71) from the floor compared with the Demon Deacons’ 50 percent (30-60) showing, while Wake Forest won the rebounding battle, 42-38.
INSIDE THE GAME
Failure to Launch
North Carolina entered Wednesday’s contest as the ACC leader in field goal percentage, knocking down 48.6 percent of its field goal opportunities. But the Tar Heels failed to eclipse the 40 percent mark for the fifth time this season, knocking down just 36.6 percent of their shots against the Demon Deacons.
From the 16:41 mark of the first half until the 2:02 mark of the second half, North Carolina only shot 30 percent (18-of-60). The Tar Heels were even worse from long range, needing three garbage 3-pointers in the closing minutes to boost the appearance of a 23.1 mark (6-of-26) from long range.
UNC attempted just 26 of its 71 shots from inside the paint, connecting on 50 percent of those opportunities. Combine that with zero fast break points and a 25 percent (7-of-28) shooting display from the backcourt, and it becomes easy to see why North Carolina was unable to cross the 70-point threshold.
“There’s no question we didn’t take great shots tonight,” Ginyard said. “There were times when we were aggressive, I thought, but we just didn’t get the shot that was best for our team. We didn’t do a good enough job of getting our big guys touches and letting them work inside. Just poor shot selection.”
UNC head coach Roy Williams echoed those sentiments, saying, “The quality of shots weren’t real good. There were a couple of times we passed up open shots to throw it to a guy who took a bad one.”
Over the past three games, North Carolina is connecting on 39.4 percent of its field goal attempts (75-of-190). The shooting struggles against Clemson and Georgia Tech prompted intense practice sessions geared towards offensive efficiency.
“We worked a little bit these past couple of days just going through our offense hard,” Ginyard said. “Going hard and setting screens and being there for your teammates, helping teammates get open. We did a fantastic job. And we came out tonight and were just a different team.”
Ironically, North Carolina posted its first positive assist-to-turnover ratio (17-9) on Wednesday since dishing out 22 assists against 17 turnovers in the Dec. 22 victory over Marshall – a span of seven games.
Playing Without Ed
When the news broke less than an hour before tipoff that starting forward Ed Davis would not play due to a left ankle injury, the immediate concern for the Tar Heels centered on how they would handle All-American candidate Al-Farouq Aminu and his oversized sidekick Chas McFarland.
“I think Ed could have played tonight, but he would have been limping around and that’s not what was best for our program,” Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference.
As it turned out, North Carolina’s banged up front court, short Davis and reserve Tyler Zeller, managed quite well on Wednesday. Aminu was held below his season averages in posting 13 points and 11 rebounds, while McFarland added five points and 10 rebounds.
Travis Wear (13 points, six rebounds) started in Davis’ place, and brother David (six points, four rebounds in 18 minutes) was the first post option off the bench.
Davis’ presence would have helped North Carolina in the rebounding department, by the real question turned out to be whether or not his absence hurt this squad’s fragile psyche before the game even started. Graves indicated in the Tar Heel locker room that a win or loss shouldn’t hinge on the availability of one player.
“Coach wouldn’t have given out 13 scholarships if we all couldn’t play,” Graves said. “We all should have pulled together and made a difference ourselves.”
Struggles on the Defensive End
Williams told reporters before the season started that he believed this team had potential to be really good defensively. Thus far, that potential has yet to be reached.
North Carolina ranked 10th in the ACC in field goal percentage defense (41.2) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (32.2) prior to Wednesday’s tip. Wake Forest did its best to drop those rankings even further, shooting 50 percent (30-of-60) for the game that included a 56.2 mark (9-of-16) from 3-point land.
“We just gave them a lot of offensive rebounds and a lot of second chances and third chances at shots,” Ginyard said. “That’s obviously a team that’s going to take advantage of those opportunities. I thought for the most part we did a decent job defending, but just giving them too many opportunities.”
Demon Deacon freshmen C.J. Harris and Ari Stewart combined to shoot 7-for-11 from long range, including six 3-pointers – three each – during a seven-minute stretch in the second half that built Wake’s five-point lead to 15.
“You don’t like teams to shot open shots against you,” Williams said. “If you think back to those threes, they didn’t make many tough threes. They made wide open threes.”