North Carolina head coach Roy Williams reacts during the second half of Monday's game against Pittsburgh in Chapel Hill. The No. 12 Tar Heels survived 80-78 to avoid losing back-to-back games for the first time this season.
By Ross Martin
Special to the Times
It was a weird last couple of days for the North Carolina basketball team.
The Tar Heels failed to show up at Miami on Saturday in what can easily be considered their worst performance of the 2016-17 season. In the first half, the Tar Heels, then ranked No. 9, scored just 22 points and made just one field goal over the final 12 minutes in their 77-62 to the Hurricanes.
It brought to mind UNC’s inexplicable New Year’s Eve afternoon loss to Georgia Tech.
Entering Tuesday’s home game as 19-point favorites, UNC, which dropped to 12th in The Associated Press Top 25, had to sweat out an 80-78 victory over Pittsburgh, mired in last place in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Pitt had a shot to win the game in the closing seconds but key layups in the last two minutes by Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson, gave Carolina enough room to pull out the victory.
Defense remains a question mark for this highly talented Tar Heels squad as it allowed the Panthers to shoot 55.6 percent from the floor and 44.8 percent from 3-point range.
“I don’t know what I am going to do, but someway, somehow I got to figure out a way to do a better job coaching on the defensive end of the floor,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said. “I have always taken great pride that we can do some things there.”
William added that UNC needs to get more ball pressure on the shooter.
Regardless of how North Carolina performed, a win is a win and Carolina now stands at 20-4 overall and 8-2 in the ACC, good enough for first place.
“We did enough to hang in there, did enough to keep a little lead,” Williams said.
UNC had four players scoring in double digits. Jackson dropped 20, Berry had 19, Isaiah Hicks added 18 and Kennedy Meeks scored 10. Berry bounced back in a big way from a awful performance at Miami.
“The guy that showed up on Saturday was not Joel Berry. I thought we had some alien that climbed up his body,” Williams said about his junior point guard’s performance against Miami. “I think it was Joel today. ... He was 5-for-9 from the 3-point line.”
UNC is back in action on Saturday evening at 6 when it hosts No. 20 Notre Dame (17-6, 6-4 ACC) in the Dean Dome. The game can be seen on ESPN.
RECRUITING CLASS IS 27TH
The UNC football program officially announced the siging of 20 prospects for the class of 2017 on National Signing Day on Wednesday. Seven are already enrolled at UNC with the rest coming in in May and June.
Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora said in his press conference Wednesday that Carolina fulfilled its major needs by bringing in five offensive linemen and four defensive backs.
They signed two running backs and two wide receivers, all of whom will have a chance to compete for minutes next season.
Expect running backs Michael Carter out of Florida and Antwuan Branch out of Tennessee to contribute early in 2017 as UNC loses senior T.J. Logan and junior Elijah Hood and only brings back one scholarship running back (Jordon Brown) for the 2017 season.
North Carolina’s class is ranked No. 27 in the nation per the industry-generated 247Sports Composite rankings. It is the No. 5 class in the ACC.
“This 2017 class is pretty special,” Fedora said Wednesday afternoon from the Kenan Football Center. “It’s a group that is loaded with great athletes. Its’s a group that understands what commitment is. There is high character in this group. We’ve got high football IQs.
“I really do believe this group is going to be part of multiple championships while they are here.”
CLASS OF 2017 BY THE NUMBERS
• UNC’s 2017 class brings in prospects from nine different states (North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, South Carolina, Texas, and Alabama)
• There are five 247Sports Composite four-star prospects (OL Jonah Melton, DE Jake Lawler, ATH C.J. Cotman, DT Xach Gill, CB Tre Shaw)
• Running Backs: 2
• Wide Receivers: 2
• Offensive Line: 5
• Defensive Line: 3
• Linebackers: 3
• Defensive Backs: 4
• Kickers: 1
UNC signed no quarterbacks or tight ends. Fedora did leave an option to bring some grad transfers into the fold.
“We’ve got a little room. It’s always up in the air as far as how many. We’ve got a little room right now. We are actively pursuing a few actually,” he said.
The attention now turns to the 2018 class and a stacked group of in-state prospects.
Ross Martin covers North Carolina basketball, football and recruiting for 247Sports.com and CBS Sports. Check out more of his work at northcarolina.247sports.com.