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Defending the 3 still a problem for Tar Heels

UNC Notebook

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Three days after N.C. State went 15 of 30 from 3-point range in a 95-91 overtime win at North Carolina on Jan. 27, Clemson matched that sizzling display of outside shooting on its way to an 82-78 victory in Littlejohn Coliseum while handing the Tar Heels their third straight loss.

“Yeah, I’ve got no answers, guys,” an exasperated head coach Roy Williams said when asked about Carolina’s seeming inability to defend the 3. “I have never emphasized something as much in my entire life.”

Things looked like they were headed down exactly the same path as Pitt opened 8 of 13 from 3-point range in Saturday’s game in Chapel Hill. But the Panthers, still winless in Atlantic Coast Conference play, ultimately cooled off, finishing 2 of 17 from deep after their hot start.

Still, Carolina’s trouble defending the 3 continues to be a trend — at one point late in the first half against Pitt, Carolina’s opponents had hit 49 of their last 100 3-point attempts. To put that in perspective, Luke Maye is an outstanding 20 of 39 (51.2 percent) from 3-point range in ACC play — but that’s only one make better than UNC’s opponents have been shooting overall from deep.

“It’s just a little over-helping,” Joel Berry explained after the Pitt win. “When they come off a screen and roll, the wrong guys are helping.”

Nevertheless, Berry did think Pitt’s cold streak from outside was at least partly due to Carolina’s defensive improvements.

“I think in the second half we did a better job of not helping from the strong side and getting the weak side guys more involved,” he said.

To help his younger teammates — particularly the Heels’ freshman big men — better understand their defensive responsibilities, Berry says he posted several clips of the Virginia’s pick-and-roll defense against Clemson (who the Cavaliers held to 36 points) to the players’ group chat.

“We want to play the screen on ball like they do,” Berry said. “Sometimes, you have to see it to be able to see. … What you have to do, and I think those videos that I put in today kind of helped the big men out.”

Asked whether Virginia’s win over Duke last week had played into his decision to study the Cavaliers’ defense, Berry laughed, “Exactly.”

SECOND CHANCE POINTS STILL CRITICAL

But perhaps even more concerning than the 3-point defense was how the Tar Heels lost the battle of second-chance points in all three of their consecutive losses. After narrowly losing the second-chance battle against Virginia Tech, Carolina was outscored 44-28 in that category against N.C. State (22-18) and Clemson (22-10).

The bottom line is that a team can’t afford to struggle defending the outside shot while simultaneously struggling on the boards, and Carolina’s success this season has continued to depend to a large degree on how well it has rebounded.

Carolina held a 22-8 edge in second-chance points against Pitt, thanks to a 47-28 rebounding domination, though Williams expressed some disappointment that young big men Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley combined for only three of those rebounds in 25 shared minutes.

Archrival Duke enters Thursday’s contest ranked fourth in the nation in offensive rebounds and is shooting 38.9 percent from 3-point range, good for 34th nationally.

DIFFERENT ROUTINE PAYING DIVIDENDS

After missing his first free-throw attempt on four separate trips to the foul line against N.C. State, Luke Maye came into the Pitt game shooting only 59 percent (49-82) from the stripe, a surprisingly poor percentage for such a terrific shooter from the field.

Maye had a career-best performance from the foul line against Pitt, hitting all five of his attempts. “Yeah, I got a little bit different routine, a different mindset going into it,” May acknowledged afterwards. “Hopefully I can stay consistent.”

JALEK FELTON SUSPENDED

Talented freshman point guard Jalek Felton, who had not yet managed to earn major minutes despite being perhaps the Tar Heels’ most talented player, has been suspended by the university, meaning he cannot attend classes or participate in any team-related activities. Felton’s Durham-based attorney, Kerry Sutton, did not disclose the reason for the suspension other than to say that the university is gathering information related to a misconduct case. As of press time, Felton has not been charged with a crime.

WOODS BACK FOR BLUE DEVILS

Felton’s absence makes the return of sophomore point guard Seventh Woods that much more valuable. Woods dressed and participated in warm-ups before the Pitt game but did not play.

“He’s really close,” Williams said afterwards. “We thought about playing him, but decided he just needed a little more practice time. Unless something weird goes on, I think he’ll play (against Duke).”

The No. 21-ranked Tar Heels host the No. 9 Blue Devils on Thursday with the tip-off in the Dean Dome coming at 8 p.m.

Woods’ ability to provide reliable perimeter defense and ball-handling should allow starter Berry more rest, giving him more energy down the stretch.

BERRY PASSES SHAMMOND

By going 4 of 8 from 3-point range against Pitt, Joel Berry is now second in school history in 3-pointers with 234, passing Shammond Williams (233). Marcus Paige owns the record with 299 triples.

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