COLUMN: Put Away the Panic Button ... For Now

Take a breath. Go for a walk to clear your head. Maybe throw on some old Joel Berry and Brice Johnson highlights to lighten the mood.

The sun will shine tomorrow.

Sure, there’s no sugarcoating North Carolina’s historically bad 83-62 home loss to Louisville on Saturday afternoon. Take your pick of the stats and tidbits to show how appalling the Tar Heels’ performance was -- there’s plenty to choose from, be it how the 21-point loss was UNC’s worst home defeat under Roy Williams or that the Tar Heels shot just 3-for-22 from outside, turned the ball over 11 times in the second half and were out-rebounded 40-31.

But come March, this loss won’t make-or-break the Tar Heels’ season.

It’s how they respond that will.

Cameron Johnson goes in for a block during Saturday’s loss to Louisville. The graduate transfer forward scored ten points against the Cardinals, but failed to drain a three for the first time this season. | Photo by Alex Kormann

Cameron Johnson goes in for a block during Saturday’s loss to Louisville. The graduate transfer forward scored ten points against the Cardinals, but failed to drain a three for the first time this season. | Photo by Alex Kormann

Everything that could go wrong for UNC, did so on Saturday -- open looks refused to drop, easy layups circled the rim before falling out, foul trouble and turnovers reared their ugly heads in a pathetic second half.

The perfect storm of poor play is unlikely to repeat itself. The Tar Heels are too talented to shoot 13.6 percent from three and lose so decisively on the glass every game.

There certainly were better ways to spend two hours for Carolina fans on Saturday (getting teeth pulled has never sounded more attractive), but don’t put too much stock into one game in early January. These things happen in the ACC.

Senior guard Kenny Williams knows the conference grind well. “I just told (the younger players) that that’s the ACC,” he said after the game. “If you don’t come ready to play, you don’t come ready for war, you’ll get beat by 20. That’s what happened tonight -- they beat us up.”

Williams likened Saturday’s loss to the Tar Heels’ conference opener in 2017 against a Georgia Tech team picked to finish second-to-last in the conference. UNC lost that game 75-63, as Williams said “we just didn’t come out the way we were supposed to and the way we needed to and they beat up on us.”

Roy Williams attempts to get a referee’s attention during Saturday’s loss to Louisville. The Hall of Fame coach suffered his worst home defeat of his Carolina head coaching career against the Cardinals. | Photo by Alex Kormann

Roy Williams attempts to get a referee’s attention during Saturday’s loss to Louisville. The Hall of Fame coach suffered his worst home defeat of his Carolina head coaching career against the Cardinals. | Photo by Alex Kormann

Tar Heel faithful will remember how that 2017 team responded: a week later it beat N.C. State by 51 at the Dean Dome before eventually winning the ACC regular season crown and Carolina’s sixth NCAA Tournament title.

This year’s team is not the same as that title-winning squad -- it lacks size and is probably too inconsistent to string together six straight wins in March and April. But this North Carolina group is better than what it showed on Saturday. It’s a group that made No.5 Gonzaga look pedestrian in a 103-90 win in December and shut up the raucous PNC Arena crowd on Tuesday night to beat No. 15 N.C. State by eight.

The ACC’s latest ad campaign claims that teams need to bring their “A-game” in the conference. While that claim is laughable in football, Saturday proved how true it is for basketball. Louisville lost to Pittsburgh on Wednesday -- the same Pittsburgh team that UNC beat by 25 a week ago. Strange things happen in a sport dependent on 20 year-olds and every team in the conference has enough talent to win games.

“These teams are good and we’ve gotta bring it and if we don’t, this is what’s going to happen,” Cam Johnson said. “I feel like we’re way better than what we showed today and we’ll show that in the future.”

Saturday’s loss isn’t season-ending by any stretch. If it’s used correctly it can be a wake-up call for a Tar Heels team that gives three freshmen consistent minutes.

So put the panic button away for now, though not for good. With games against Notre Dame, Miami and No.9 Virginia Tech coming in the next nine days, Roy Williams has plenty of opportunities to right the ship. Whether he does ultimately will decide the Tar Heels’ fate.

@BigJ_KMeyer