The Turning Point for the Tar Heels: Ellington Gets His Shot Back

Jacob NitzbergAnalyst IJanuary 18, 2009

Before the season started and during non-conference play, there was talk of whether the North Carolina Tar Heels could go through the entire season undefeated en route to a national title.

After their first 13 games, it seemed like a distinct possibility, as they defeated all of their opponents by 15 points or more, including the likes of Notre Dame, Kentucky, and Michigan State.

Two weeks ago, it became clear this team was not invincible as we all thought. The Heels lost at home to an unranked Boston College team 85-78. After dispatching non-conference opponent College of Charleston, Carolina went on the road to face undefeated No. 3 Wake Forest, where they lost a close game 92-89 to start the year at 0-2 in conference play.

While the Heels rebounded midweek with a 83-61 win over Virginia, it was clear that something was missing from this Carolina team. They weren't scoring with ease, they weren't running the floor as well as they typically do and most of all the shots just weren't falling. In their two losses, the Heels shot less than 39 percent from the floor.

On Saturday vs. Miami, the game started the same way. Carolina wasn't hitting shots and wasn't playing defense, and trailed 32-23 with 6:48 to play in the first half. The Heels went on a 13-0 run to end the half with a four point lead, but they had just two points combined from their starting backcourt of Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington.

Ellington has been one of the problems for the Heels this year. His scoring is down from 16.8 ppg last season to just 12.8 going into Saturday's game. His FG percentage was down from 47 percent to 43 percent, and he was shooting just 35 percent from beyond the arc.

So while the 13-0 run to end the half may have turned the game, what happened with 17:05 left may have turned the season for the Heels. After missing another open jumper, Ellington followed his own shot with a layup for his first points of the game.  Then the next three trips down the court all finished with Ellington threes. 

Over a 10-minute span that began with the offensive rebound and layup, Ellington went 7-for-7 from behind the arc, ending up with 23 points for the game. What was evident during this stretch for those who watched the game was that Ellington had regained the confidence in his shot that had been missing all season. 

Prior to Saturday, his season high in points was 17 and his high in three-pointers made was just three.

While it was great to Ellington finally in his groove again, it is clear that coach Roy Williams knows that no player is bigger than the team. After Ellington made his seven straight three point field goals, he missed his next two, each which were taken within the first few seconds of the possession without looking to pass the ball.

After Danny Green put back his second miss, and Miami called timeout, the camera clearly caught Williams saying to one of his players on the bench: "Go get Wayne."

The Carolina team that lost to Boston College and Wake Forest was missing a shooting guard to give them stretches of scoring that Ellington was able to give them on Saturday. 

It also opened the floor for Ty Lawson and took the pressure off Tyler Hansbrough, who had 20 first half points but just four in the second. If Ellington can keep this up, we might be able to see the Tar Heels live up to all their preseason expectations.