Tar Heels looking to find old spark

A tough weekend puts a blemish on Hubert Davis’ debut season

UNC Forward Armando Bacot scored 10 of his 14 points against Furman on Tuesday in the second half (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

According to the wedding website The Knot, the average honeymoon lasts seven to 12 days. That’s almost exactly what new UNC coach Hubert Davis got in Chapel Hill.

The Tar Heels won three games in the first seven days of Davis’ debut season. Then, on Day 13, they traveled to Uncasville, Connecticut, for a weekend tournament. And the honeymoon, as the old saying goes, was over.

UNC did the basketball equivalent of leaving dirty socks on the floor and forgetting to lift the lid, getting blown out in back-to-back games by Purdue and Tennessee.

It wasn’t so much the results of the games as the way the Tar Heels lost — particularly the second day against the Volunteers when Carolina was never in the game and appeared disinterested.

National media ripped the team for lacking toughness, not playing together and, as one NBA scout told Rob Dauster of NBC Sports, “a bunch of selfish dudes.”

Davis didn’t waste any time addressing the issues on his first team.

“You asked what needs to change,” he said after the game. “Everything needs to change.”

Most frustrating for Davis was the lack of a fiery response after the first loss of the weekend.

“I never want to coach effort,” he said. “It means something to play at this place. It means something to be a part of this program. And there’s a fire inside of you that should never burn out given that opportunity to be out there on the floor.

“I was really excited about today’s game,” he added. “I was excited about seeing the response out of our team after playing yesterday and the competitive spirit on both ends of the floor … I’m very disappointed, but I’m not discouraged.”

The team didn’t pass that first test under Davis, but a few days later, the Tar Heels seemed to set things right again, blowing out UNC Asheville by 20 points at home. It was the type of game where, in the past, players would have talked about learning a valuable lesson, about how opponents won’t just back down when they see “North Carolina” on their chest, and how they’ll be better for the experience they went through.

Brady Manek didn’t follow the script, however, ripping the team after the game.

“We’ve got to play better, plain and simple,” he said. “I don’t know what it is. Come together more, just play basketball. We’ve got to play better. We should have beat them by a lot more than we did.”

Manek pulled no punches, saying that the team got “lit up this weekend.”

“We’ve got to play together. We’ve got to play as a team. We’ve got to enjoy other people’s success. Be a team. That’s basically it. There’s nothing else in basketball than being a team. We got stomped by two teams this weekend. We were not a team.”

Davis took on the role of good cop after the Asheville win, praising the team’s defensive effort. But he was happy that one of his veterans stepped up to address the issues.

“I always say this to the guys, that if you’re emotional and you show emotions, that’s good,” Davis said. “If you’re emotional, and you have emotions out there on the floor, on the bench, in the huddle, I’m 100% for that. That means you care.

“So you saying that Brady came into the interview room hot, that puts a smile on my face. That means he cares. And he’s right. This team can be really good. And he understands that. We’re very fortunate to have Brady Manek on this team and a part of this program.”

The Tar Heels have had an extended break since the Asheville game to regroup and prepare for their next contest, against a ranked Michigan team in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday night.

The Wolverines have a senior guard in Eli Brooks who will test UNC sophomore Caleb Love on both ends of the floor. Sophomore 7-footer Hunter Dickinson will do the same to Armando Bacot in the paint. Michigan also has a strong freshman class, including shooter Caleb Houstan and forward Moussa Diabate.

The Tar Heels will have to make the most of their practice time to be ready for the test from the Big Ten power.

“We’re going to celebrate Thanksgiving. We’re going to spend time together as a team away from the court,” Davis said before the time off. “But we’re also going to practice a lot and we’re going to get better. I don’t care what anybody says. I’m convinced that this is a team that has a chance to win a national championship. I just believe that. … I’m excited about this week to get better as a team and to spend time together as a team.”

After another eight days together, maybe the honeymoon isn’t quite over after all. ‘