Carolina lost again, and now have virtually no chance of reaching the NCAA tournament, and their NIT hopes even took a big hit, as N.C. State pulled away for a 75-67 overtime win before another full house at the Dean Smith Center.
Here is a look at the good and the bad of UNC's 13th loss in 27 games and ninth Atlantic Coast Conference defeat in 13 contests.
Raymond Felton – Felton had a terrible first half, shooting 1-7 from the floor (all 3s) with no assists and three turnovers. He finished with 16 points, three assists and eight turnovers, and his attitude and gritty effort and performance almost led the Heels to what would have been a huge victory. Felton is a true warrior that generally doesn't allow mediocre or poor performances to negatively affect his attitude.
Defense – The Tar Heels were prepared well for State's unique offensive approach. The Wolfpack had some success, but didn't burn UNC backdoor like they do most opponents, were forced well into the shot clock on many possessions. They also turned the ball over 19 times. For the game, State shot just 41.8 percent, which considering UNC made 46.4 percent of its attempts should have been enough for a Tar Heels victory.
Movement - individual & ball – Carolina's movement without the ball was much improved over the Maryland game, and in many respects, over numerous games of late. The Heels also did a better job, albeit inconsistent, of moving the ball around. They made State work on defense, something many UNC opponents haven't been forced to do with regularity.
Set plays – The Heels ran set plays, folks, many of them. In fact, some of the sets worked well and got them open looks from five feet away from the basket to beyond the 3-point arc. In the second half alone, the Heels got a 3-ball from Jawad Williams, who came off a down screen by Rashad McCants, that put them up 41-37, and another 3 from David Noel on an inbounds play.
Offensive efficiency - The Tar Heels were 24-47 from the field in regulation, including 15-25 (60%) in the second half. They got a ton of nice looks and knocked down most open jumpers. UNC was also 4-8 from beyond the arc in the second half, with three of the treys coming on sets.
Jawad Wiliams - Williams is not a center or a power forward, but he plays such a role in real life. The Cleveland sophomore had 14 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots. He also didn't commit a turnover and has just one in the last two games with eight assists. He plays perhaps the most consistent floor game on the team and even though he isn't a great rebounder, battles hard underneath. Williams did a better job boxing out Tuesday night than he did on Saturday. A tremendous competitor, he also takes losing very hard.
Effort - The Heels gave a terrific effort, especially considering they essentially quit in Saturday's loss at Maryland. Carolina came out with intensity and played well because of that energy and alert nature.
Fans - Another full house for the Heels and most were cheering for UNC, unlike last year's visit from the Wolfpack. The fans were tremendous, as they have been all year. They were loud, supportive, and despite what has been a frustrating team to watch at times, patient.
Free throws – Carolina has been mediocre to bad all year at the free throw line and it once again cost them (also see Virginia, Iona, Duke, Miami). The Heels made just 7 of 19 from the line and missed a couple of front ends of one-and-ones. This very crucial part of the game might be a symptom of a disease that has afflicted this team too often. The most basic of fundamentals, UNC is shooting just 66.3% from the line. Individual numbers: Williams (76.8%), McCants (70.7%), Felton (67.9%), Jackie Manuel (63.4%), Noel (38.5%), Melvin Scott (42.9% - just 3-7 on the season in 348 minutes), and Byron Sanders (60%). Gone are the days of Kenny Smith, Jeff Lebo and Shammond Williams!
Rebounding – N.C. State entered the game as the lowest rated rebounding team in the ACC. The Wolfpack left the contest having outboarded the Tar Heels 43-28. Point guard Clifford Crawford had nine rebounds, just like Maryland reserve guard John Gilcrest had nine in 14 minutes on Saturday. UNC also had just five offensive boards and a ZERO in the first half.
Hodge-less stretch – UNC was handed a golden opportunity when State star Julius Hodge picked up his fourth foul with 13:21 left in regulation and UNC ahead 36-35. Felton hit one of two free throws and when the clock started again it was 37-35. But by the time Hodge came back with 7:18 left and right after a McCants 3, the Wolfpack led 50-48.
3-point shooting - While Carolina did make half of its eight 3-point attempts in the second half, the Heels connected on just three of 12 in the first half and one of six in the overtime, good for an 8-26 (30.8%) night.
Final 4:10 – The Heels have been here before. They went the final 4:10 of regulation with just one field goal – a steal and slam by Noel. UNC ran few, if any, set plays and its shot selection was suspect. The last minute was most disturbing, and not an unfamiliar sight.
The Heels' last shot, with the game tied at 62 after Hodge nailed a jumper with nine seconds left, was a 3-point attempt by Manuel, which was blocked by Hodge. Carolina has been nothing short of horrid all year in last-second situations, either at the end of halves or in shot clock situations. While there has been progress in certain areas, this clearly isn't one of them.
Overtime shot selection - Even though UNC never trailed by more than three points in the extra period until State hit two free throws with 43.9 seconds left, six of the Heels' nine field goal attempts were from beyond the arc. Carolina's propensity for going into ugly stretches offensively, which usually results in scoring droughts, often shows itself at the most inopportune times, as it did again on Tuesday night.
22-8 – UNC led 59-53 with 4:10 left in regulation, but was outscored 22-8 the rest of the game, overtime included.
Timeouts - Doherty opted not to call a timeout either up 62-60 with the ball in the last minute (UNC missed a questionable shot) or after Hodge tied the game at 62 with nine seconds left. The result on UNC's last possession was Noel with the ball at the top of the key passing to Manuel, the fifth option, on the right wing for a 3-point attempt. The shot was blocked while McCants, Felton and Williams stood watching. Had Doherty called a timeout he could have substituted Scott for Manuel and drawn up a play, which didn't have to be a 3.
Also, Doherty drew some of the fans' ire when he called a timeout with 10 seconds left in overtime to draw up a play and UNC trailing by eight.
The little things – With State's Josh Powell missing the front end of a one-and-one and NCSU leading 48-45, UNC was whistled for a lane violation. Given another chance, Powell proceeded to knock down two free throws for a 50-45 lead with 7:55 left in regulation.
State senior guard Clifford Crawford was amazingly blown for a 10-second backcourt violation even though the Heels weren't closely defending him with 55.7 seconds left in overtime and UNC trailing just 67-64. But Felton missed a 3-point attempt and Carolina couldn't cash in on the blunder.
Two mental errors, one by each team, but State capitalized and UNC didn't.
Use of bench – N.C. State is widely regarded as having the thinnest bench in the ACC, yet got 29 minutes from its bench while UNC's reserves played only 24 minutes. Foul trouble to Hodge contributed to State's bench getting more time, but for UNC to require so few minutes from its bench brings more questions to the surface.
Ugly reality - In the last two seasons, UNC is 8-21 in regular season ACC games. The Heels are 6-2 against Florida State and Clemson and 2-19 against the rest of the conference.
Robinson Invitational – Now at 4-9 in the ACC, Carolina might have to win two more games to avoid the play-in game, better known as the Robinson (nicknamed after Les and Steve) Invitational.
Postseason hopes - Not only did the loss essentially destroy UNC's chances of reaching the NCAA tournament, but unless Carolina can manage two more wins, it likely cost them an NIT bid as well.
UNC returns to action on Saturday at home against struggling Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels will essentially be playing to work themselves out of the dreaded play-in game of the ACC tournament. Game time is set for 1 p.m. and will be televised by ABC.
Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He also covers the ACC for the Wilmington Star-News/Morning Star and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.