It is a real simple proposition. Don't fall behind by 29 points midway through the second half.
UNC basically played as bad as they could play for the first 30 minutes of this game. Butler came out and punched the Heels in the mouth and it took far too long for the this team to fully respond. The first half was horrid with the Heels only posting 18 points which I suppose was a predictable result after firebombing Mississippi State on Monday. Nothing worked from the start which can be largely attributed to UNC simply not being ready to play and focused on the task at hand.
And honestly, this is not a totally unexpected occurrence considering the makeup of this team and where they are at in terms of development. There will be games where the players' heads are not on straight and they fail to match what the other team is doing in terms of toughness and intensity. Even Final Four caliber teams experience this sort of phenomenon and it is probably amplified in a team learning to play together.
Regardless of the reason, the Tar Heels found themselves in a very deep pit. Butler outrebounded UNC on both ends of the floor. The Bulldogs made twice as many trips to the free throw line resulting in a +10 advantage at the line. And in that all too familiar movie, Butler went 12-25 from three. In the end that is 25 more points from the three point and free throw lines which is how 29 point leads are built. Needless to say giving away those kinds of advantages is extremely tough to overcome.
Yet, the Heels made a legitimate run to whittle that huge deficit down to six with a minute left. Much of that had to do with UNC's level of aggressiveness. The Heels did not shoot a free throw until 13 minutes left in the second half. That is a sure sign a team is not being aggressive. When UNC turned up their intensity on both ends, the game changed. Unfortunately, the hole was too deep but fighting back is as much a positive sign as falling behind was a negative one. It would have been easy to fold up and take a huge loss. Heck, the team last season did that at Florida State. NC State did as much in Puerto Rico on Sunday night and they only trailed ten at the half but lost by 20. The fact UNC found the switch and turned it on makes this game a valuable lesson for the future.
Basically this Tar Heel team learned that you have to bring it every night. That sentence seems silly to even write but since we are talking about college kids prone to up and down games, it is a hard lesson that sometimes must be taught. In addition to that, going on a 40-17 run to get within six is a strong indicator that all the Heels needed to do what flipped that switch when it was 16 point game instead of waiting until the deficit was 29.
The good news is, this is a November game and Roy Williams' teams often build March success on the lessons learned at this time of year.