BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — A year ago, North Carolina dealt with early-season pitfalls but eventually found a winning formula that sparked a run to the national championship game last March.
So following a 77-65 loss at Indiana — North Carolina's third in a row — it's not an entirely new situation for Love and the Tar Heels, who return five significant contributors from the 2021-22 squad.
But that doesn't make everything easier to fix.
North Carolina shot a woeful 20-for-59 from the field, or 33.9 percent, including a 5-for-18 mark from three. For most of the night, the Tar Heels' offense felt stale and motionless. Caleb Love, North Carolina's leading scorer, went 5-for-16 from the field and 2-for-7 from deep, dropping his season averages to 40.6 percent overall and just 25 percent from three.
“It’s at an all-time high," Love said, describing his frustration. "I put in so much work, and it’s like I don’t know why they’re not falling. But I think part of it is my shot selection, as well, so I have to change that and get easier ones. But as far as my perimeter shooting, they’ve got to fall some time. I don’t know when that will be because I put so much work in, and I’ve just got to trust my work and be confident.”
Love said North Carolina's offensive struggles on Wednesday night at Assembly Hall were a combination of Indiana taking away certain options, but he also sensed a lack of fluidity.
"It's like we're just standing and waiting for somebody to make a play," Love said. "So we've just got to change our movements, stay active off the ball and we've got to be tough enough and smart enough to get open."
North Carolina coach Hubert Davis was asked what he can do to change his team's habits and tendencies of standing around and waiting for someone to make a play.
“I think that’s bejeebies. I do," Davis said." I don’t know if somebody did say that. I don’t want to comment on something that I didn’t hear and I didn’t understand the context in which they said it. But one of the things that I always tell the guys, not just in reference to tonight, just in life, you have a choice to whine and complain, to point fingers and make excuses or you can get back up and fight.
"We shot 33 percent from the field because we didn’t make shots. I played four years at Carolina and 12 years in the NBA, and there wasn’t one time where I felt like I was waiting for somebody to get going so I could get going. I was just out there playing.”
Indiana freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino matched up with Love to start, and Trey Galloway provided plenty of defensive tenacity off the bench. Indiana coach Mike Woodson likes everything about Galloway, stemming from how hard he plays. Woodson thought Hood-Schifino and Galloway executed Indiana's game plan of guarding Love closely to limit his long-range shooting ability.
"Trey brings so much energy to our team, especially on the defensive end of the floor," Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis said. "He just thrives off of it. He always guards their best guard. He's always in their head trying to get them to make mistakes. We call him Crazy Man because that's how he is on the defensive end of the floor."
North Carolina turned the ball over 10 times on Wednesday, which isn't a bad number, but Davis said each one led to a "pick-six" for Indiana on the other end. The Hoosiers finished with 17 points off 10 North Carolina turnovers, which contributed to 50 points in the paint.
Twenty-one of those points came from Jackson-Davis, who also grabbed 10 rebounds, dished out four assists and blocked four shots. For Davis, there was no stopping Indiana's preseason All-American big man. If North Carolina brought a double team, Jackson-Davis found the open shooter. And if the Tar Heels matched up one-on-one, it was a bucket for Jackson-Davis.
"They have a player that they can run offense through that can generate points for them on every possession," Davis said. "And as of right now, we don’t have that. We don’t have that in the post."
North Carolina's current three-game losing streak is the program's longest since the 2019-20 season when it dropped eight games in a row. The Tar Heels have been away from Chapel Hill, N.C. for over a week, and Davis is excited for two things, primarily – getting home and practicing.
Davis said whether it's in high school, college or the NBA, every team reaches a level where opponents are equally talented and athletic, but an emphasis on discipline and details in fundamentals is what can differentiate a team. That's what the upcoming weeks are about.
And for Love, who's admittedly frustrated with North Carolina's 5-3 start and his personal shooting struggles, it's still early.
"Eight games in," Love said. "We've got a full season ahead. It's not the end of the world. We haven't even started ACC play yet. We've just got to, you know, keep our heads high, change our approach, get back to the drawing board and fix whatever we need to fix."
There's plenty to fix, but Love believes it starts with their approach to the game.
"The intensity in practice, always staying locked in, details, not cutting it short, taking short cuts in practice or anything," Love said. "Every game we've got to come out and punch them in the mouth. It's like we're getting punched in the mouth first.
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