WINSTON-SALEM — When junior guard Andrew Platek was asked Tuesday night what he thought about North Carolina being tied for last place in the ACC, he struggled to find the right words to describe it.
As he tried to express his thoughts, he seemed to be having a conversation with himself, going back and forth, wondering just how this season had reached another low.
Three days after nearly knocking off No. 7 Duke, and eight days after going toe-to-toe with No. 8 Florida State, the Tar Heels played like a 3-10 ACC team.
They trailed Wake Forest, a team that has 13 losses of its own, by 26 points 3 minutes into the second half, and lost 74-57.
“Losing sucks,” Platek said after the game. “Ask anybody who loses. It’s not fun. It feels like we’re a good team and, like, we can play really well, but our record isn’t showing that.
“We can feel all the ways we can feel, but we’ve got to show up on game night. We’ve got to play, we’ve got to win games. That’s what Carolina basketball is. Carolina basketball isn’t 10-14 or whatever we are right now. We’re ACC Champions. I have an ACC ring. This is what we do. We win.”
But the Tar Heels haven’t won this season.
Marred by injuries to key players and poor shooting, the Tar Heels are 10-14.
Some of the losses have been close, such as the ones against Duke and Florida State.
Some have been blowouts, like Tuesday night in what resembled a home game with more than half the fans at Joel Coliseum wearing Carolina blue.
Until Tuesday, it had been six years since Wake Forest defeated UNC, and the Deacons had beaten the Tar Heels only twice in the past 10 seasons.
‘A long night’
For the first 24 minutes Tuesday, the Tar Heels weren’t fighting. Against Duke, they led by nine points with 2 minutes left. For much of that game, they were the first to every loose ball, they scored with ease, and played defense that made life difficult for the Blue Devils.
But against Wake Forest, they were beaten to the boards, were last to every loose ball, allowed Wake to shoot 56 percent from the floor in the first half — 45 percent from 3 — and trailed by 18 at halftime.
“The frustrating thing is, we showed the way we came out against Duke,” said sophomore guard Leaky Black. “We showed we could compete against the top five teams in the country, and then we come out against (Wake) and play down to our competition, and I feel like, it’s just — it was a long night.”
The game fell apart late in the first half, after graduate transfer guard Christian Keeling fouled Wake guard Andrien White on a 3-point shot. The shot went in, and White made the free throw, extending Wake’s lead to 25-15 with 6:30 until halftime.
That was the beginning of an 18-4 run by the Deacons. Four minutes later, the Tar Heels were down by 20.
Wake made 10 of its last 13 field goals to end the half, while the Tar Heels shot 31 percent.
UNC coach Roy Williams said he didn’t know why his team started slow.
“If I knew that, I sure as hell know one thing, we wouldn’t start out that way,” Williams said, later apologizing for being short with the media. “Right now, there’s a reason we’re 10-14. There’s a reason.
“One of the biggest reasons, we’re not playing hard enough. I’m not getting them to play hard enough.”
‘Just got to do it’
Perhaps still stunned by Saturday’s loss to Duke, North Carolina didn’t appear ready for Wake Forest. Williams said he didn’t know if that loss had a carryover effect. He was focused on the game against Wake.
“Saturday’s game was Saturday’s game,” Williams said. “It was over with. I tried. I watched it three times, trying to see if the result changed. It never changed one frickin’ time. Not one damn thing we can do about that. We’ve got to play today’s game.”
The Tar Heels didn’t get moving until late in the second half, when they cut Wake’s lead to 9 points with 2:37 left. But that was too late. The damage from the first half had already become insurmountable.
“No way we can come out there and expect to win games like that,” said junior forward Garrison Brooks, who had to get two stitches to his upper lip during halftime. “It’s only certain teams in the country, that good and they can’t do that. And we’re not one of those teams.”
UNC’s 17-point loss was its second-largest defeat of the season. UNC lost to Ohio State 74-49 in December.
UNC freshman guard Cole Anthony, who had 15 points but was 5 of 19 from the floor, said the team didn’t compete.
“I can name a number of times where they just bullied us in the paint, got offensive rebounds,” Anthony said. “I saw it with my own eyes. It happened to me.”
Anthony added: “The coaching staff is doing all they can do,” he said. “We’ve got to want it more.”
There are seven games left in UNC’s regular-season schedule before the ACC tournament begins March 10. Two of UNC’s remaining seven games are against top 10 opponents — at No. 5 Louisville on Feb. 22 and at No. 7 Duke on March 7.
Some players sounded hopeful. Keeling, who came to UNC in the offseason to win a national championship, said he wouldn’t give up. When asked if it was getting tougher to have that same mindset as the losses pile up, he said ‘no.’
“It’s not harder because, when you deeply believe, it’s not hard,” said Keeling, who finished with a team-high 15 points. “We’ve just got to do it. We’ve just got to put it in the ashes and stop saying it.
“Put it in the ashes.”