A fan is sometimes the harshest critic of their own team. However, North Carolina deserves a bit of criticism for their often lackadaisical play in a 89-80 victory over Tobacco Road foe N.C. State, an intense rivalry that dates back to 1913.
The game was the 10th straight win for the Tar Heels, all in conference play, but the lack of defensive intensity for long stretches of the game was troubling. The zombie-like home crowd wasn't much help, as they apparently didn't want to disturb any of their neighbors by yelling too loudly.
Despite allowing the Wolfpack to shoot .532 from the field and .611 from behind the arc, the game was not nearly as close as the final score indicates. The first half was hard-fought, but UNC was up by double-digits for almost the entire second half after an early 12-0 burst.
The most important development of the game was the return of Tyler Zeller, who scored two points and grabbed three boards in his first action since an early-season matchup against Kentucky. A late foul in that game sent Zeller crashing to the floor, breaking his wrist.
As Zeller took to the floor for the first time in months, the home crowd roared in approval; sadly, this was the loudest decibel level the fans achieved during the entire game.
I haven't seen the post-game press conference yet; I don't know if Roy Williams is happy. I can tell you that he shouldn't be.
Javier Gonzalez, playing point guard in a revamped Wolfpack lineup, shot 7-of-8, including 4-of-4 on three-point attempts. He didn't miss in the first half, which one would think would draw significant attention from the defense. Apparently, Gonzales successfully donned his Cape of Invisibility, because Lawson and the rest of UNC's defense consistently failed to rotate to him before he launched his long-range bombs.
During the first half, N.C. State was able to repeatedly pound the ball inside and score at will, leaving them a missed three-pointer from a tie game at the break.
Thankfully, Courtney Fells apparently left his game in Raleigh and the Wolfpack defense obliged with an even weaker performance than Carolina's, especially in the second half.
Tyler Hansbrough scored 27 points, Danny Green had 19, and Ty Lawson contributed 16 with nine assists, as the Tar Heels shot an exceptional .562 from the field and .867 from the free throw line.
Tonight's level of intensity was in sharp contrast to the 101-87 victory over UNC's primary rival, Duke, a week ago. The Heels weren't moving their feet on defense, they weren't trapping at all, and for at least 20 minutes, they allowed N.C. State to set the pace of the game.
Though Wayne Ellington ended up 7-of-12 from the field, his first-half shot selection was questionable. At many times early in the game, UNC started making one of their fatal mistakes: playing "outside-in," or basically taking perimeter shots without even attempting to first penetrate or force the ball inside.
This is not the kind of play that will garner critical wins in the NCAA Tournament. This is the type of effort that a more defensively skilled team could make UNC pay for.
I'm willing to chalk this one up to a bit of a letdown after key road wins in Durham and Miami. Perhaps the Tar Heels thought this was one would be easy, though they'd be wise to remember the Boston College game before they get too confident.
Tar Heel fans, you need to up your intensity in the stands. Tar Heel players, you need to up your intensity on the defensive side of the floor. Feed off of each other.
It is great to see UNC win on any night, especially against a rival that is generally detested in a different, more visceral way than Duke, but this level of effort is not going to be good enough in March.