Despite beatdown, Heels 'playing for March'

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams said earlier Tuesday that he had to stop himself from being too critical during his team's loss to Butler last week in Maui because of the freshmen on the court.

He knew he had to be patient. But that patience might be wearing thin.

The Tar Heels could use an excuse that P.J. Hairston was back in Chapel Hill with a sprained left knee, that the freshmen had never been in such a hostile environment as Assembly Hall or that the veterans like Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald and James Michael McAdoo were either injured or hardly significant players last season.

But Williams isn't using any of those as a crutch, and neither were his players after a humbling 83-59 defeat to the top-ranked Hoosiers.

"There's a point and we're at that point," said Williams. "The best thing is that they have the day off [Wednesday]. Basketball is a simple game. You just need to do the crap that I tell you to do."

Williams said that the young players weren't all at fault. He cited Strickland's inability to get back and the times when everyone failed to compete.

Carolina came out with a sense of urgency, unlike in its loss to Butler in the Maui Invitational semifinals Nov. 20. But the last four minutes of Tuesday's first half and the beginning of the second were as lopsided as Williams has seen in his tenure, or at least as much as that humbling 33-point loss to Florida State in January.

North Carolina was beaten consistently as Cody Zeller outran the Tar Heels. Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Jordan Hulls passed over the Tar Heels or IU's Will Sheehey or Victor Oladipo got ahead for a flush or an otherwise-demoralizing finish.

"We were where we wanted to be, but then after the last media timeout [the four-minute mark of the first half] we were lackadaisical and they pushed it to 10 points," said McAdoo. "They kept it going and we never hit them back. We've got to learn from our mistakes. We have so many young guys, we're learning new roles."

North Carolina came into the game ranked No. 14. The Tar Heels won't likely be in the poll next week and will have plenty of work to do to regain their national credibility.

"We don't look at the rankings, we stay in our own camp," said McAdoo. "Right now we have to figure out who we are as a team. We've got a lot of work to do. We're playing for March."

That was sort of Williams' point earlier Tuesday. He said to check back with him in 30 days, 60 days and at the end of the season. This team still can be very good, but he noted that the ACC schedule lies ahead, to say nothing of a visit to Texas (still a road game, regardless of the Longhorns’ struggles) and one from UNLV.

"We felt like we could win this game," said Strickland. "We just had a lot of mental mistakes on defense. We left Cody wide open. We have to do a better job of hustling and showing a better sense of urgency and more aggressive play."

Strickland said the Tar Heels lost their poise offensively after the quick strikes by the Hoosiers. That was evident in nearly every fast-break IU basket.

"They just killed us in transition," said freshman Marcus Paige. "We didn't get easy baskets. We struggled from the floor."

The Tar Heels shot 1-of-8 on 3s. Hairston would have helped, but the problems are much larger than his health. UNC received good news when an X-ray on Reggie Bullock's finger was negative, although Williams said late Tuesday that the staff might take another one back in Chapel Hill.

The Tar Heels need a vocal leader, someone to take charge or calm this team down when things go awry. McAdoo tried to get the squad going in the hallway prior to the second half, imploring his teammates to grab every rebound and get after the Hoosiers.

Indiana then ripped off 13 consecutive points and was ahead 22. Game over.

Duke is clearly the ACC's best team right now. NC State is struggling but hasn't looked as vulnerable as Carolina so far. Florida State lost at home while Maryland won on the road Tuesday. The league is wide open -- after Duke -- so all is not lost for the Tar Heels. But they had better find that intensity, urgency and, for Williams at least, get back on defense -- and fast.

"I don't worry about the expectations," said Paige. "We can be a really good team."

That’s still to be determined.

"It's a good group, a really good group of kids," Williams said. "Right now is a tough time and we'll find out how mentally strong we are in practice."