Shooting funk has Williams concerned

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams has been known, after rough losses in the past, to take the rims off the backboards the following practice to make a point about playing hard, particularly on defense.

Not only did he leave the rims on Monday -- UNC’s first team workout since losing at Florida State by 33 points -- he built in a nine-minute shooting session after his Tar Heels struggled to connect from outside for the third straight game. This time, he was making a point about his team needing points.

“There’s no question it does concern me,’’ Williams said during his radio show Monday night. “I don’t like to shoot and miss.”

The FSU blowout on Saturday exacerbated a budding problem with UNC’s outside shooting. During nonconference play, the 3-point shot had grown into a reliable weapon, as the Tar Heels connected on 38.8 percent of them, as well as 48.5 percent of their shots overall.

But the Tar Heels have made only 11 of their 51 3-point attempts in their three ACC games. And their top three outside shooters have particularly struggled:

  • Starting small forward Harrison Barnes was 4-for-13 from 3-point land, and 17-for-40 overall, against Boston College, Miami, and at FSU.

  • Reserve Reggie Bullock went 3-for-11 from behind the arc, and 5-for-18 overall, in those three games.

  • Reserve P.J. Hairston is 3-for-17, and 3-for-19 overall, in ACC play. The freshman -- who missed practice Monday because of the death of his great-grandfather -- particularly struggled at FSU, missing all eight of his shots, including seven 3-pointers.

“P.J. is as good a shooter -- when he finishes, when I finish, I’ll talk about him as one of the best shooters I’ve ever coached,’’ Williams said. “Reggie Bullock has shown that he can make a bunch of 3s. Harrison has worked so hard on his game, he’s a big-time shooter. Leslie [McDonald, out this season because of a knee injury] is not playing, but he’s in that category -- they can make a bunch of shots.

“But we haven’t made them in the last three games. I said early in the season that I thought we’d be a good 3-point shooting team. And at one point, we were shooting 47 percent as a team, and all of a sudden now we’ve gone south.”

And they need to head back north. And soon.

At Virginia Tech on Thursday, the eighth-ranked Tar Heels face a team desperate for a league win after starting conference play 0-3. The Hokies are tops in the league in 3-point field goal percentage defense (allowing foes to make only 26.2 of their long-distance shots) and fifth in overall field goal percentage defense (.396).

For UNC to bounce back from the most lopsided loss of the Williams era, it needs more outside shots to fall through.

“You have to have great balance,’’ Williams said. “If they’re sagging back in too much on Z [Tyler Zeller] and John [Henson], we need to make 3-point shots. If you’re open from 3, and you can make the shot, shoot it. If you’re not open, don’t shoot it. … But we need to have great balance.”

Robbi Pickeral can be reached at bylinerp@gmail.com. Twitter: @bylinerp.