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North Carolina’s final possession in an upset loss to Boston College on Saturday was a microcosm of the Tar Heels’ week. Superstar point guard Cole Anthony dribbled around the perimeter motioning for an on-ball screen that never came before settling for a deep contested 3-point attempt that missed its mark at the buzzer. All the while, Anthony’s teammates stood around waiting for him to make a spectacular individual play.
That play and many others like it stand in sharp contrast to the final week before Anthony’s return, as Carolina seemed to have finally found itself offensively, with fluid ball movement, cutting without the basketball and a focus on feeding the post resulting in more efficiency and clarity for a group of players that had struggled to figure out their respective roles on this team.
Carolina consequently shot over 50% in four of the last six halves prior to Anthony’s return, including wins over Miami and rival N.C. State. In that context, the hope was that the additional firepower of an NBA-caliber talent would make things easier without upsetting the delicate chemistry that had been developed in his absence.
That Tar Heels did not, however, take that step forward upon Anthony’s return. The freshman came off the bench on Saturday to score an efficient 26 points on 14 shots against Boston College, but Carolina’s offense bogged down otherwise in a loss to an Eagles squad that had been 2-6 in its last eight games coming into Chapel Hill, with the Heels shooting 30% from the field in the first half and 36.1% for the game.
Those shooting woes persisted at Florida State on Monday, as Carolina went 0 for 17 over an 11-minute stretch in the second half on the way to shooting 28.2% from the field in the second half, getting suffocated down the stretch by the eighth-ranked Seminoles. Carolina has not shot better than 41.9% from the field in any of the four halves since Anthony’s return.
The ball movement — and movement without the ball — of the prior week disappeared as Anthony’s teammates too often found themselves standing around waiting for the superstar point guard to make a play, while Anthony — who still doesn’t look quite as explosive as he was prior to the injury — struggled to find the balance between facilitating and shouldering the scoring load.
“Sometimes you just stand back and watch and there are four other players on the court with him,” junior guard Andrew Platek confessed after the Boston College game. “It’s not like we’re in awe. He’s just very good at what he does.”
With seventh-ranked Duke visiting the Smith Center on Saturday, Carolina will need to figure out how to strike a balance between Anthony’s brilliance with the ball in his hand and the pass-and-cut motion approach that was beginning to produce better offensive results prior to his return.
The one positive sign since Anthony’s return has been better play on defense. Despite the offensive struggles, Carolina was still in position to win both games due to outstanding defensive efficiency. On the season, Carolina has been 13.9 points per 100 possessions better with Anthony on the floor than they’ve been with him on the bench.
The defensive matchup between Anthony and Duke star Tre Jones on Saturday should be one of the best individual matchups of the season, and Anthony’s defensive energy in that matchup is critical to Carolina’s upset hopes.
ROBINSON OUT INDEFINITELY
On his Wednesday night coach’s show, Roy Williams provided an update on Brandon Robinson, who sprained his right ankle (the same one he hurt early in the year) in the final seconds of the Boston College game Saturday.
The news was not good.
“Not very well,” Williams confessed when asked about Robinson’s status. “He’s still in a boot and on crutches. We’re very concerned how long he’s going to be out.”
NUMBERS OF THE WEEK
352. The fabled “Carolina Break” hasn’t been seen much in Chapel Hill this year. North Carolina is scoring 0.797 points per play in transition, which ranks 352nd out of 353 Division 1 teams, a staggering statistic for a team coached by Roy Williams.
4:15. That’s Armando Bacot’s assist-to-turnover ratio with Cole Anthony on the floor. Bacot’s A:TO ratio is 26:23 without Anthony on the floor. Some of that is the result of Bacot’s growth as a player since Anthony’s injury, but Bacot’s 1:5 ratio in the past two games suggests that’s not the only factor. One likely factor is the higher percentage of post feeds with Anthony off the floor, giving Bacot the ball in more controlled contexts in a halfcourt setting, while Anthony’s presence means more pick-and-roll opportunities, in which Bacot has mostly struggled.
70. With Robinson sitting out against Florida State with an ankle sprain sustained in the final minute against Boston College, scholarship players have now missed 70 games this season due to injury, extending the record for the most in the Williams era at UNC.
Jason Staples has covered college football since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter @DocStaples and check out more of his work at InsideCarolina.com.