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December 19, 2009

Horns hook Heels

ARLINGTON, Texas - It seems that no matter the cause on paper of a North Carolina loss, the answer in the locker room is always the same.

Not enough effort.

This time the opponent was No. 2 Texas, the venue was Cowboys Stadium and the statistical disaster for the 10th-ranked Tar Heels was rebounding. But with the "how" established easily, the "why" in UNC's 103-90 loss was as repetitive as it was enigmatic.

"As a team we just didn't have any energy," Marcus Ginyard said. "Their energy level was higher than ours. They were just competing out there. We weren't."

It's a similar story to the one the Tar Heels (8-3) have told in road losses to Syracuse and Kentucky, but each defeat seems to yield little in the way of answers for the lack of intensity.

"I don't think that we're on the road is the reason why our effort is like that," Deon Thompson said. "I don't even know, honestly. I don't have any words to put to why our effort isn't what it should be. Everyone just has to take a look in the mirror and make some real self-evaluation."

While Carolina's players were unable to account for what led to the disparity on the boards, it was nonetheless significant.

Texas (10-0) out-rebounded UNC 60-41 behind 15 boards apiece for forward Damion James and center Dexter Pittman. It was no coincidence that James (25 points) and Pittman (23 points) were also the Longhorns' leading scorers.

Pittman was an absolute beast inside, snaring 12 of the Longhorns offensive rebounds himself, while Carolina couldn't move him and failed to have a double-digit showing by any player in total rebounds.

"Dexter Pittman kicked our tails by himself," UNC coach Roy Williams said.

It's easy to believe the Tar Heels when they point to effort and intensity as the main downfalls in this loss, because it's the only way to explain how a team with Carolina's size up front - talked about endlessly as the greatest strength of this squad - could be so thoroughly outplayed on the glass.

"Maybe we're just not as good as everyone thought we were," Thompson said.

The turning point came, much like it had in Carolina's previous losses, with a big run by the opponent putting the Heels in a deep hole.

Against Syracuse, it was a 22-1 streak to start the second half, and at Kentucky it was a 28-2 run.

UNC seemed poised to keep things close this time, engaging in a back-and-forth game for most of the first half before Texas went on a 20-6 spurt in the final five minutes to put the Tar Heels in a 54-41 hole at the break.

"Basketball is a game of runs," Thompson said. "Early in the season we've been unlucky with those. We have to find a way to have some of those runs other teams have had."

Perhaps even more disturbing for the Tar Heels than the run itself was the fact that Texas had 17 of its 29 offensive rebounds in the first half, contributing to 16 second-chance points.

But just like in the other losses, Carolina fought back.

Playing tougher defense and looking like a different team effort-wise, the Heels chipped away until finally cutting the Longhorns' lead to four points with seven minutes to go.

"We made our run, but we didn't get over the hump," said Ed Davis, who led the Tar Heels with 21 points and nine rebounds. "It didn't come out how we wanted it to."

The 103 points was the most the Tar Heels have given up in regulation under Roy Williams, but he said he thought the Longhorns had the chance to be the best team Rick Barnes has ever had at Texas.

Ginyard said it was undoubtedly the best team Carolina had faced this season.

But he also acknowledged that the Tar Heels can't expect to win big games like this one if lack of effort keeps emerging as the reason for losses.

"It's not something you can work on," Ginyard said. "It's just a decision you make as an individual and as a team. It's going to kill us later in the year if we're still saying that."


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