Going into this game it was clear that Texas would need to play a near-perfect, if not perfect, game in order to steal a victory in Chapel Hill. It was not to be. #5/6 North Carolina displayed their full arsenal of talent and easily handled Texas, 82-63. .
Texas was outmanned at every position. While the Longhorns are competing this season without their three best players and NBA first rounders from a year ago, Roy Williams was blessed with the decisions of John Henson, Tyler Zeller, and Harrison Barnes to return to school. All three are future pros and their experience and skill was on full display in the blow-out victory.
And, honestly, if it wasn't those three, the rest of the Tar Heels are as good as this year's version of the Longhorns. Kendall Marshall, PJ Hairston, Reggie Bullock, and James McAdoo are also all future NBA players. Needless, to say this was going to be a tough hill to climb and a real test of where this young Texas team really is.
Before I get into a few comments player by player, I caution all Longhorn fans not to read more into this blow-out loss to one of the best teams in the country than what we "learned" in blow-out wins to teams from the Southland Conference. Texas is not an elite basketball team this season, like North Carolina clearly is, nor should the ‘Horns be ignored either. This is a very young team, with six freshmen among only nine contributors, that still has lots of room to grow.
This was a whooping, no question about it. Join me after the jump to find a few positives and some thoughts player by player.
First Half: 39-23 North Carolina
Texas didn't do much of anything right in the first half. And sad to say, it could have been worse. The young Longhorns didn't take care of the basketball, didn't find shooters in transition, and let the Carolina length completely disrupt what they wanted to do on offense.
Texas wasn't going to sneak into the Dean Dome and win if J'Covan Brown and Myck Kabongo didn't protect the ball like it was a first born son. Too often the Texas guards broke down their defenders on the perimeter but then had nowhere to go when the Carolina frontline rotated across to help. Kabongo fired a pass to the wing out of bounds; Gibbs was stripped in traffic in the paint; and Brown lost control of the ball multiple times while trying to split the double team off a high ball screen.
There were too many turnovers, too many quick shots, too little off-the-ball movement and screens on offense, too many lost shooters in transition, and too many missed defensive rebounds. When that many things go wrong over 20 minutes against a top-notch ball club, you find yourself down 16 and basically out of the game. And that is exactly what happened.
With the game not really in reach in the second half, let's skip to the player notes.
Myck Kabongo 15 minutes, 1 point (0-2, 0-2 3PFG, 1-2 FTs), 0 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 4 turnovers
Throughout the first half, I was curious why Myck wasn't attacking Kendall Marshall off the dribble. He clearly had the advantage with his quickness and ball skills but was mostly resigned to moving the ball around the perimeter and firing the occasional jumper. The answer came in the second half. Kabongo apparently has been suffering from low back problems, possibly caused by a collision in practice. Barnes elected to have Myck sit for most of the second rather than risk further injury.
It is hard to judge Kabongo's performance in the first half, since the severity of his injury is unknown. However, this wasn't one of his better performances. The early turnovers led to too many easy UNC buckets and were a big reason for the early deficit.
With a healthy Kabongo, Texas is a budding NCAA tournament team. Without Myck, well, I don't even want to go there. Get healthy!
J'Covan Brown -- 37 minutes, 16 points (6-18, 3-7 3PFG, 1-2 FTs), 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 turnovers
JCB was one of three Longhorns to reach 16 points but shot poorly from the floor and got the free throw line just twice. Like Kabongo, Brown was significantly affected by the length of the UNC defenders. Jumpers were contested, passes deflected, and shots in the paint rejected. While J'Covan did some nice things in the second half off high ball screens - ala the Kansas games in each of the last two years - it was too little, too late.
The quick shots in the first 10 minutes of the game combined with the turnovers by Kabongo and Brown were the biggest reasons this game was over by halftime. As Texas enters conference play and continues to face more physical and better-sized teams, J'Covan will need to protect the ball better as he attacks the basket as well as take fewer contested three-pointers.
Jonathan Holmes -- 28 minutes, 16 points (6-11, 2-5 3PFG, 2-2 FTs), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, 3 blocks
In the first half, Holmes gave Texas some nice help on the offensive end with a few three-pointers, a nice turnaround baseline J, and beautiful pump fake and drive to the bucket for a layup. He also forced a couple of looks too. While I love his ability to pull an opponents' four away from the basket, Holmes would be better served picking his spots for face-up mid-range and three-point jumpers. And, consequently, Texas would be better served with Holmes in the high or low post and crashing the offensive glass than firing from 20 feet on back to back possessions.
Alexis Wangmene -- 19 minutes, 0 points (0-2, 0-0 FTs), 1 rebound, 0 assists, 0 turnovers, 0 blocks
Wingman came out of the gate quickly and got his hands on a few offensive rebounds. Texas fans should have seen that as a good sign, ala last year's game when Alexis game the Carolina big men fits with his physical play. However, for the rest of the game, Alexis was a non-factor. The play that stood out most to me was a batted missed free throw out of bounds which led to a made UNC three-pointer after the ball was re-entered into play. It was that kind of game.
Barnes does not need Wingman to be a go-to offensive player, but at a minimum, Lexi must box out and be efficient on the glass on both ends. Texas can't afford to have a player on the court for half the game and not register a thing in the scorer's book.
Clint Chapman --19 minutes, 2 points (1-6, 0-0 3PFG, 0-0 FTs), 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 0 turnovers, 3 blocks
Chappy battled on the low blocks defensively and had a couple of solid possessions in the fist half. He even blocked a turnaround jumper by future lottery pick James McAdoo. But as with each of the Longhorns, Chap was not efficient enough. He grabbed a couple of offensive rebounds but then failed to convert the bunnies. He also had trouble changing ends with UNC bigs and can be seen in multiple highlights jogging at about the three-point line when Hairston or Henson is scoring at the rim.
Sterling Gibbs --18 minutes, 6 points (2-5, 2-5 3PFG, 0-0 FTs), 0 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 turnovers
Barnes went with Gibbs late in the first half and for most of the second half at the point. Sterling played fine and will continue to be a serviceable back-up to Kabongo in conference play. His ability to knock down open threes is a nice plus off the bench.
Jaylen Bond --16 minutes, 6 points (3-7, 0-0 3PFG, 0-0 FTs), 9 rebounds, 0 assists, 1 steal, 0 turnovers, 0 blocks
When you are down 16 at half, there are very few positives. One of those was Bond, who is quickly becoming my favorite Longhorn on this year's squad. Like he has in the last few games, Jaylen was simply doing work on the offensive glass. He may be undersized in height but he is more than making up for it with body position and motor. Bond goes after missed shots like no one else in a Texas uniform. Although Chapman and Wangmene are seniors, it is hard not see Bond gaining more and more playing time as the season progresses.
Julien Lewis --21 minutes, 0 points (0-6, 0-1 3PFG, 0-0 FTs), 4 rebounds, 0 assists, 3 steals, 2 turnovers
The fact that I almost forgot to write about Lewis says it all. Julien is a much better player than he showed in Chapel Hill. The turnovers and the 0-for-the game from the floor add to a forgettable performance. It is the shooting woes that are most concerning. Over the last three games, Lewis is 3-for-18 from the floor and just 1-for-10 from deep. Julien was described as a streaky shooter in high school and it's time for this streak to break. Texas will need a lot more from him in conference play on both ends of the floor.
Sheldon McClellan -- 27 minutes, 16 points (6-12, 2-5 3PFG, 2-3 FTs), 2 rebounds, 0 assists, 3 steals, 0 turnovers
Sheldon was a non-factor in the first half but found his jumper in the second half. His second half offense helped Texas keep the game from getting completely out of hand and hopefully gave McClellan some confidence. At this point, it should be clear to Texas basketball fans that Texas is a better team with Sheldon on the floor. Whether he is on the court for the opening tip or not, his jumper and rebounding abilities give the Longhorns the best chance to win. McClellan still has a lot to learn on the defensive end but his length alone helps, even when he is somewhat out of position.
The Longhorns are off for the holidays and don't play again until December 31st in Austin against Rice. That contest will mark the end of non-conference play and should put Texas at 10-3. With the departures of Colorado and Nebraska, the Big 12 has gone to a full round-robin conference season with 18 games - nine, home-and-homes.
As has been discussed on the site, Texas's overall non-conference resumes leaves more than a little to be desired: defeat of Temple, road victory over a terrible UCLA team, and a bunch of cupcakes. Big 12 play will give Texas plenty of chances to shine though.
Missouri, Baylor, and Kansas look to be the class of the conference with A&M, Texas, and Kansas State forming the second tier. The strength of the conference at the top will make taking care of business against the other four teams - OU, Ok State, Texas Tech, and Iowa State - absolute musts. Texas opens conference play at Iowa State on January 4th.