After a narrow win over the Holy Cross Crusaders Friday night, the UNC Tar Heels weren't as fortunate Sunday afternoon when Belmont beat UNC 83-80.
It's still early in the year and UNC Head Coach Roy Williams was in a somewhat surprisingly optimistic mood during his weekly radio show Monday night when discussing the loss.
"It was disappointing. It's one of those losses that hurts. It's the kind of thing that hopefully we can learn from. I'm one of those guys, I think you can learn from winning just as much as you can learn from losing, so I like that part better," said Williams. "Coach Smith used to just say, 'If we play well, I can handle it.' Well I'd rather play poorly and win."
Williams said that his team has begun the process of going over what needs to get corrected as they march forward towards a run later in the season. While Williams doesn't put much stock in the rankings, the Tar Heels did manage to stay in the top 25 of both major polls despite the upset.
On Monday, UNC practiced hard and Williams predicts that in the future, they'll be a better team than the one seen Sunday afternoon.
He also cited a decades old philosophy on handling the late-game situation UNC found themselves in against Belmont, and while he did second-guess himself, it didn't sound like an overhaul in philosophy was forthcoming.
"We watched the tape for about two hours this afternoon. I was very disappointed at the end of the game because for 25 years as a head coach, 10 years as an assistant, I've always had the philosophy that if it's more than seven seconds on the clock when the other team takes the lead we're going to push it up the floor and not allow them to set their defense," said Williams. "But, we were so unorganized, you know Marcus Paige is playing the two and not the one, and it was a weird scenario. I like our chances of getting the ball out in the open court and as soon as we miss the shot and they throw it down, I'm second guessing myself and asking why I didn't call a time-out.
"It was really disappointing to me from a coaching viewpoint but then watching the tape there were a lot of opportunities that we had that we didn't take advantage of and, you know, they made some shots. I tell people all the time it's not just about us, but they made some plays and we didn't make some plays," said Williams. "We had an opportunity to play better defensively, we had an opportunity to shoot better from the free throw line, and we had an opportunity to get an offensive rebound one time that went through our hands that could have been big. So, a lot of big plays in the game but you have to give them credit."
Speaking of Paige, the point guard from Iowa has been an integral part of keeping UNC competitive on the offensive end. He's no longer the starting point guard but has shifted over to the two-spot. That has forced his role to change drastically from the one he was in last season and Williams says they'll continue to need his offense throughout the year.
"There is no question that we need Marcus to put the ball in the basket. He is a scoring point guard in high school. You've heard me say I like scoring point guards. Raymond Felton tried to score, Ty Lawson tried to score, and I like those kinds of things. I think it opens up the whole floor so much," said Williams. "We do need Marcus to shoot the ball in the basket. Through three games, Nate Britt has one three, J.P. Tokoto has made one three and the rest are all Marcus. So it's not very good balance but we do need him to be aggressive, mentally and in his play of putting the ball in the basket for us."
Another second year player that has been doing big things thus far is Brice Johnson. The lanky inside scorer has vastly improved his efficiency down low and has given UNC a spark off the bench. Williams gave Johnson credit for improving his game but would like that progress to continue in another area as well.
"Well he has (improved) on the offensive end. He has the ability to score and he's done some nice things for us," said Williams. "We've got to get him to have that same energy level on the defensive end of the floor too but he does give us an ability to score inside and can rebound the basketball. Now if we can get that on the other end of the court it'll be a great help to all of us."
UNC got a career performance out of James Michael McAdoo but Williams insists the Virginia native is still a little out of control at times.
"I think a couple of times he just goes so fast, just take an extra split second, it's just an extra split second to gather yourself and then you go up and you don't miss those shots. James Michael is important to us," said Williams. "27 points and 13 rebounds, we'll take that every night. I loved his performance in the first game even better when he was 9 for 13. But we do need him to score for us."
The biggest storyline that will continue to carry on until it's resolved is the ongoing saga involving two of UNC's more prominent scorers, P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald.
Williams is no doubt tired of answering questions about when they'll return, but did take time to address how he's been preparing the players that are available to play while keeping Hairston and McDonald a part of the team environment.
"Who knows if it's going to work or not but we've really tried up until we started playing the games to mix P.J. and Leslie up with the first and second teams as I did with everybody," said Williams. "When we started playing games, I put them on the "Blue Squad" or the second squad, whatever you want to call it, and have not had them running with the first team since then.
"It's been difficult for our team. I got on our guys today. I said 'Guys, I don't know when their coming back. I don't know if they are coming back. I don't know if they're going to show up in 2018 or not.' It is a tough situation, the NCAA is trying to do what they think is best, we're trying to work together with this thing. It's a difficult thing for our kids because their saying 'Well, we need to get this happening. We need to get those guys back.' Or, 'We're going to be better.' I told them to stop thinking that stuff and play," said Williams. "Play the game. One of our coaches even said he thought it might be hurting them during the game but I'm not buying that. When the game's being played I don't care who's out there as long as I got four other jerseys the same color as I am. But you know, it's no question it's a distraction but our kids are really handling it very, very well and those two kids, P.J. and Leslie are doing a nice job handling it."