North Carolina 87 South Carolina 62

Ok - so the number 1 team in the land beat us by 25 on a neutral court - neutral in name only, since most of the crowd was wearing Tarheel Blue.  

And ok - we went 9-23 from three-point range, and shot 41% overall - only marginal improvements over our season averages so far. 

And, yes, ok - we gave away 25 turnovers (17 alone in the first half).  

Plus we got no respect.  Color announcer (and former Dukie) Jay Bilas repeatedly wondered why we weren't getting blown out by 25 or more at the half with that many turnovers in the first frame.   That obnoxious slug Doug Gottlieb mocked us during half time.  Everyone shamelessly referred to the Tarheels as "Carolina" like we weren't even there.

So we should be upset, right?  Another dismal performance, right?    

But I'm not going there.  I was really proud of the team last night.  I thought they played hard and I could see the outline of better things to come.   We had four players in double digits - Gill, Leonard, Cooke and Slawson.  Impressively, Slawson had a double-double off the bench (13-14) plus four blocks, and looked like the player we hoped he might become.  We out-rebounded the vaunted Heels 38 to 33, and had only a differential of two on offensive rebounds (11:13).  We actually had an inside game.  We didn't give up or let UNC run us totally off the floor despite all the turnovers.  

Color me suitably impressed.  The game was never in doubt - UNC never let us get much closer than 10 points throughout and stomped us at the end.  We could play this game 10, 20 times and UNC is going to win each time, probably by a much wider margin.   But the effort was there on USC"s part.  We showed out.  We played hard.   We were soundly beaten but we weren't completely humiliated by a 40 point margin, or the Heels breaking the century mark, like many of us probably feared but were unwilling to admit  

People will say it was an off-night for the Heels, and there is likely a lot of truth in that.  Others will say that the Heels were intentionally playing conservative ball - and there is likely a lot of truth to that, too.  But we held the # 1 team in the country to 46% shooting from the floor and just 50% (8 of 16) from the arc.   We played better than most of us probably expected.  Against lesser teams, what we accomplished could turn into wins. 

I don't think we're out of the woods.   We still chucked up way too many contested threes.   We over-dribbled when we should have been passing.   We were just 7 of 12 from the stripe.  There is still a lot of room for improvement. 

All that being said, I think we can build on last night - even in a 25 point loss. Hopefully, our effort against the best team in college hoops means we won't see anymore chokes against teams we should be beating handily (a la Elon or Tennessee State) or eked-out wins against lower-division clubs (like Mississippi Valley State).  Whether that will translate into a respectable out-of-conference record and winning SEC ball remains to be seen.  However, there's a glimmer of hope there.  For me, at least.

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