UNC tries to combat clogged lane before facing NC State

North Carolina’s Caleb Love (2) puts up a shot against Miami’s Bensely Joseph (4) in the first half on Monday, February 13, 2023 at the Smith Center in Chapel

North Carolina’s Caleb Love (2) puts up a shot against Miami’s Bensely Joseph (4) in the first half on Monday, February 13, 2023 at the Smith Center in Chapel


North Carolina coach Hubert Davis left Monday’s loss to Miami pondering ways to make sure the paint stays open.

The Hurricanes all but dared the Tar Heels to make shots from the perimeter, and they couldn’t deliver. That left the lane too clogged up to get the ball to forward Armando Bacot in the post and too cluttered for clear driving lanes to the basket.

Beginning Sunday at N.C. State, more opponents may begin sagging off the perimeter like Miami did in the second half to have an extra defender as a deterrent for post passes to Bacot. Davis believed there were a few counter moves to make, but said the Heels ultimately still have to shoot better.

“There’s different ways where we can get the ball to him at different parts of the floor,” Davis said. “There’s try some different personnel. But at the end of the day, we’re just gonna have to be able to make some shots.”

Their season could depend on it. Carolina (16-10, 8-7 ACC) heads into the game without a Quad 1 win in the NCAA Net rankings. Beating the Pack (20-7, 10-6) would be the Heels’ first and help stop the backward momentum that has them potentially playing their way out of the NCAA tournament.

“We all know, everybody in the building, know what’s at stake,” Bacot said. “I believe we’re a tournament team but at the end of the day, we got to show it.”

Carolina only made four 3-pointers in the first meeting with the Wolfpack.

N.C. State left forward D.J. Burns to defend Bacot one-on-one in the post and he ended up in foul trouble in the Heels’ 80-69 win on Jan. 21. But back then, UNC was shooting 32 percent from 3-point range as a team. It has since slipped to 30.6 percent, which is flirting with being the worst percentage in program history.

Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

It would help if the Heels can get forward Pete Nance out of his shooting slump. Nance is averaging 9.7 points per game, which is down from his 10.6 average when the Heels won the first meeting with the Pack.

Heading into February, Nance was shooting 35.5 percent from 3-point range, including a 42.1 percent clip in ACC games. And he’d just scored 21 points to help key a road win at Syracuse.

He’s now sitting at 28.8 percent for the season.

The month has been a disaster shooting-wise for Nance. His only made 3-pointer was his first attempt against Pitt on Feb. 1. Since then, he’s missed 17 consecutive attempts from behind the arc.

Understandably, his confidence has been rattled to the point that Nance didn’t take a couple of open shots in Monday’s loss to Miami. He even was called for a traveling violation on one possession when, instead of taking advantage of what should have been a catch-and-shoot situation, he hesitated on the shot and then tried to dribble.

Nance looks like a completely different player offensively than the one who set a career-high with five 3s as he tied a career-high by scoring 28 points in the Heels’ win over Portland to start the Phil Knight Invitational.

Nance did miss the better part of four games from Jan. 4-14 due to back problems. He’s been wearing a brace when he’s idle on the bench ever since his return against Boston College on Jan. 17.

“It’s not really bothering me much,” Nance said. “I’m just trying to stay ahead of it. Just keep it loose.”

Some fans have been clamoring that Puff Johnson should replace Nance in the starting lineup. Johnson averages 4.2 points per game and has made 10 of 30 3-point attempts. But he also struggled against Miami, shooting just 1-for-6 from the floor and missing each of his four 3s.

There’s no obvious fix for Carolina. Other than staying prepared and hoping for the best.

“When your number is called you gotta be ready, that’s what it is,” guard Caleb Love said. “I mean, we in February now, so we know what we got to do. The bench players know what they got to do. People know, we got to step up including me.”

C.L. Brown covers the University of North Carolina for The News & Observer. Brown brings more than two decades of reporting experience including stints as the beat writer on Indiana University and the University of Louisville. After a long stay at the Louisville Courier-Journal, where he earned an APSE award, he’s had stops at ESPN.com, The Athletic and even tried his hand at running his own website, clbrownhoops.com.

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