Tag Archives: Pittsburgh Basketball

Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Auburn (NCAA Tournament – Sweet 16)

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 97-80 season-ending loss to Auburn on Friday evening in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Highlights:

  • What a fun season it’s been. This team really took us on a ride; rounding into form by winning 17 out of 19 games prior to this loss. That streak lead to a shared ACC regular season championship. The only two losses in those 19 games were to fellow one seeds Duke and Virginia.
  • The abrupt and harsh ending that the NCAA Tournament delivers is always jarring. The unexpected loss will put a sour taste in the mouth of Tar Heel fans for some time. Seeing Kenny Williams on the sideline in tears after checking out for the final time is one of the most heartbreaking images you’ll ever see.
  • Who would have thought that the unheralded class of Kenny Williams and Luke Maye would wind up as one of the most accomplished classes in the history of North Carolina basketball? But that’s where we find ourselves. This is a credit to the coaching staff. It’s high time that the college basketball world begins to fully appreciate Roy Williams for the coach that he is.

  • While not as talented as the 2012 team, the external injury circumstances that led to that teams’ demise seem to have struck again this year at just the wrong time in the form of Nassir Little and Cam Johnson’s illness, Coby White’s tweaked ankle, and Kenny Williams’ hamstring.
  • At the same time, those are excuses and take away from Auburn’s three-point barrage in the second half. Fully healthy or not, Carolina simply didn’t have the defensive answers to slow down what the Tigers did after halftime.
  • Going back to the illnesses / injuries, it was clear that Little and Johnson were not themselves on Friday night. Little did not have his usual otherworldly explosion to the rim – he was blocked twice on dunks that would never have happened on a normal night. Johnson, will still tying for the team lead in scoring and having three steals, seemed a step behind all night. After tweaking his ankle five minutes before halftime, Coby White stayed in the game but didn’t possess his usual blow-by capabilities.

  • By hitting two three-pointers in his final game, Cam Johnson finished the season with 96, the second most in a single season in Carolina history. What a pick-up he was for Roy Williams’ club over the previous two years. With all due respect to Pittsburgh and their program, Johnson is a Tar Heel.
  • The Tar Heels finish the season with 312 made three-pointers as a team, the most in program history for a single season.
  • Unfortunately, the story on this night was Auburn’s three-point shooting. After Carolina did a reasonable job guarding deep shots in the first half, the Tigers exploded for 12 threes after halftime (on just 18 attempts).
  • Coming into the game, rebounding appeared to be a plus for the Tar Heels, while three-point shooting was a plus for the Tigers. Curiously, Auburn matched Carolina in rebounds in the first half (21) while Carolina matched Auburn in threes in the first half (five).
  • With many players struggling to make baskets, it was great to see Kenny Williams shoot well in his final collegiate game. The senior finished with 10 points, including hitting two threes. The Tar Heels will struggle to replace his defensive grit and determination next season.
  • Hard to believe but Luke Maye finishes his career with the 10th most rebounds in Carolina history (942). He also recorded 377 rebounds this season, the seventh most in a single season in the Tar Heel record book. Maye is the only player in program history to have two entries in the single-season top 10 rebounding list. Maye finishes his career tied with Kris Lang for 39th on the all-time Carolina scoring list with 1392 points.
  • After dominating their first two NCAA Tournament opponents on the glass, Carolina could not take advantage of a poor rebounding Auburn team, only holding a 40-36 advantage in that category.
  • What contrasting styles between the North Carolina / Auburn game and the Texas Tech / Michigan game from Thursday night. The Heels and Tigers had combined for 14 points just 1:45 into the game. The Red Raiders and Wolverines took 10:39 to achieve the same.
  • Other than back-to-back ill-advised shots around the 6:00 mark, when Carolina seemed poised to make a last push, Brandon Robinson had another solid showing. He finished with nine points, hit two threes, grabbed four rebounds, had three assists, and zero turnovers (against a team build to force them). Robinson’s continued development over the summer will be an important key to Carolina’s success in 2019-20.
  • Carolina didn’t play a great first half, but did enough to put themselves in position to take over in the second half (similar to the Iona game). However, a 14-0 run from Auburn that spanned the end of the first half and beginning of the second half gave the Tigers a lead they would never relinquish. The Heels never again got any closer than six.
  • The part of the game that you hate to see: Auburn’s Chuma Okeke suffered a non-contact injury to his left knee with 8:08 left in the game. Okeke’s knee buckled as he drove to the basket. While he eventually hobbled off the court under his own power, the injury had the appearance of an ACL issue. Best wishes to Okeke in his recovery.

Roy Williams, Kenny Williams, Luke Maye post-game press conference:

While there will sadly be no more Quick Hitters this season, stay tuned throughout the off-season for updates on recruiting decisions, potential transfers, NBA early entry decisions, roster composition for 2019-20, and more.

On a personal note, thanks so much for continuing to read my work. I love getting to write about North Carolina basketball and would do it just for myself, but it’s an honor to do it for others as well. I’m so thankful for everyone who reaches out to say how much they enjoy reading. Your kindness is overwhelming.

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Quick Hitters – UNC @ Pittsburgh

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 85-60 road win on Saturday over Pittsburgh.

Highlights:

  • This was the start the Tar Heels needed in conference play. During the 2016-17 season Carolina had a similar start to the ACC schedule: back-to-back road games with the first against one of the presumptive bottom dwellers in the conference. That year, Carolina went to Atlanta and lost to Georgia Tech by 12. The current iteration of the Tar Heels would not suffer the same fate, by securing a dominant victory in Pittsburgh.
  • This game was Cam Johnson’s first return game to Pitt (Carolina played the Panthers only at home last year). Not a single player remaining on Pitt’s roster was one of Johnson’s teammates. Lots of players in that position of returning home try too hard or get too amped up. Not Johnson, who had another great game. He, along with Coby White, paced Carolina’s scoring in the first half. Johnson also tallied a season-high nine rebounds, had four assists and zero turnovers. Here’s Johnson talking about his homecoming:
  • This game was tied at 12. Carolina then went on an extended 26-5 run (including a 16-0 spurt) to essentially put the game out of reach.
  • Last season, Johnson fell well short of his three-point shooting expectations (34.1 percent). This year he’s up nearly 15 percent (48.6 percent), hitting 35 of 72 shots thus far. Literally one more made three would have him at 50 percent from deep on the season.
  • Garrison Brooks did a better job managing his fouls than he has of late. He didn’t pick up a second foul until just before halftime. This self-control allowed him to play 28 minutes, up from a 19.5 season average. The extra court time afforded Brooks the opportunity to have arguably his most productive game of the season – nine points on 4-for-8 shooting, eight rebounds, five assists, zero turnovers, two blocks and two steals. In fact, he was the leading assist man on the team.
  • Carolina has now committed just 11 turnovers in back-to-back games. While any number of turnovers is undesirable, 11 is a palatable number for Coach Williams and his up-tempo style of play.
  • The Heels racked up 24 assists on 32 made buckets (75 percent). At halftime, Carolina has 11 assists and Pitt had precisely zero.
  • For the third game in a row, Carolina held their opponent to 60 points or less and under 40 percent shooting. Pitt only scored 23 points and shot 20.7 percent in the first half. Here’s an example of that solid defense turning into an assist from White to Maye:

  • Carolina hauled in 51 rebounds (17 offensive), led by Luke Maye’s 11. However, they allowed 46 rebounds to Pittsburgh. So the rebounding total is where it needs to be, but the rebound margin is less than the advantage the Heels usually enjoy.

  • Coby White’s shot might be back. He led the team in scoring with 22. He and Johnson each hit three first-half three pointers en route to the team shooting 10-for-24 (41.7 percent) from deep. Pitt, on the other hand, only buried two three pointers. Here’s White discussing his first ever ACC game:
  • Kenny Williams had a rough, foul-plagued game. He picked up his third foul with just over 8:00 before halftime and his fourth less than two minutes into the second half. Williams shot 1-for-5 from the floor, including 0-for-3 from deep. You have to feel for the senior.
  • Carolina employed a zone in the first defensive possession after the under 12:00 media timeout of the first half. They played six total zone possessions in the first half as well as several more in the second.
  • An area Carolina needs to continue to grow: the Heels let Pitt get into the bonus with 14:22 left in the first half.
  • It seems like at least once a game Nassir Little comes up with some type of highlight. He had a monster block with around 12:00 left in the first half and had a huge dunk later in the game.

  • The three freshmen (Nassir Little, Coby White, Leaky Black) were on the court together quite a bit throughout the game. Roy Williams’ willingness to trust his three freshmen in a line-up together in their first ACC road game says a lot about his faith in them.
  • The Heels had really active hands against Pitt; particularly from Brandon Robinson who finished with three steals.
  • It seems like more often than not, Carolina has a lapse just before halftime. Not so today. The first half ended with a wonderfully executed fast break. Leaky Black grabbed a rebound and pitched ahead to Cam Johnson who passed to Coby White for a lay-up as the buzzer expired. Here’s the play:

Roy Williams postgame press conference:

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is a road game against NC State on Tuesday, January 8. Tip is at 9:00ET on ESPN.

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Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Harvard

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 77-57 home victory on Wednesday night over Harvard.

Highlights:

  • Tonight was the final tune-up for the Tar Heels before ACC play commences on Saturday at Pittsburgh. It was a sluggish win for Carolina, but a win all the same. At the same time, the ugly win will not do much to inspire confidence heading into conference play. The 2018-19 Tar Heels are very much still a work in progress.
  • For the 13thseason in a row, Carolina has amassed 10+ non-conference wins.
  • Sterling Manley was out tonight with left knee discomfort. There is no current timetable for his return.
  • The Tar Heels only had four first half turnovers and finished with 11. Curiously, Cam Johnson was responsible for five of those. Harvard finished with 22 turnovers.

  • Carolina only out-rebounded Harvard 38-34 and had just eight offensive rebounds.
  • Garrison Brooks had another strong start but picked up two fouls before the first media timeout. This is the third game in a row he’s had two fouls in the first five minutes. Particularly with a thin front line further thinned with Sterling Manley’s absence, Brooks has to find ways to stay on the court longer.

  • Admittedly it has been against back-to-back mid-major teams, but the defense is trending in the right direction. Purely based off of shooting numbers, Carolina has held their last two opponents (Davidson and Harvard) to 33.9 percent (41-for-121) on field goals. Anecdotally, the team appears to be playing with more urgency, activity and cohesion on defense. Of course, there is still room to grow on defense. Here is Kenny Williams talking about that need for growth:
  • This defense uptick is fortunate because the Heels are struggling in half court offense and need the defense to turn into fast-break offense. A great example of the defense turning into offense came just before the under 4:00 media timeout of the first half. Kenny Williams grabbed a steal and pitched ahead to Leaky Black who assisted Nassir Little on an explosive dunk.

  • Sluggish and sloppy start to second half. Harvard cut the lead down to as little as 5.
  • If something seemed different defensively in the second half, that’s because Carolina started switching all their screens instead of the usual hedging out.
  • 19-22 from the free throw line for the Heels. Those are numbers you’ll take any night.

  • 5 different players hit double-digit scoring, led by Luke Maye’s 14.
  • For the first time all season, Kenny Williams didn’t record an assist.

Roy Williams postgame press conference:

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is the ACC conference opener on the road against Pittsburgh on Saturday, January 5. Tip is at Noon ET on Raycom. Here’s former Pittsburgh Panther Cam Johnson talking about tonight’s game, but also the impending match-up in Pennsylvania:

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