CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Rick Barnes is in his 37th season as a college head coach.
He couldn’t seem to find words to describe Tennessee’s first half in its 100-92 loss against No. 17 North Carolina in the ACC-SEC Challenge Wednesday night.
There was one thing Barnes was confident saying about it.
“I told our team at halftime, it’s the worst basketball half (from a) team I’ve ever coached,” Barnes said postgame. “Never seen a team that has the ability that we have that can be that bad in the first half. … I thought we had guys, and mostly the older guys, getting beat off the bounce. Didn’t follow our scouting report, how we wanted to play, giving up the shots we gave up in the first.”
Few teams score on Tennessee the way North Carolina did in the game’s first 20 minutes. The Tar Heels totaled 61 first half points. The Vols were defending in quick sand, slow on rotations while North Carolina made them pay by making seven-of-16 first half three-point attempts.
And when Jonas Aidoo went to the bench with his second foul, North Carolina scored just as easily at the rim. The Vols were down sophomore big man Tobe Awaka which thrust freshmen JP Estrella and Cade Phillips into larger roles.
More From RTI: Everything Tennessee Basketball Coach Rick Barnes Said After The Vols Lost To North Carolina
They were of little resistance against North Carolina’s stout front line as the Tar Heels ended the first half 10-of-12 on shots at the rim. So what was the halftime talk like?
“That was the most mad I’ve seen him and rightfully so,” Tennessee wing Josiah-Jordan James said. “We were down on ourselves, but coach really put an emphasis testing us, our toughness and it wasn’t about X’s and O’s.”
The defense was the most glaring issue in the first half but not the only one. Tennessee turned the ball over nine times and the Tar Heels fully took advantage by turning it into 20 points. Barnes couldn’t put his finger on why the first half was so bad or why his team wasn’t ready to play. The ninth-year Tennessee coach said he was “baffled” by the performance three times postgame.
Tennessee’s loss at North Carolina wasn’t without positives as the Vols cut the deficit to six points at one point in the second half. The Vols’ defense was much improved and Dalton Knecht was special on the offensive end. As angry as Barnes was with the first half, he was happy talking about the second half and a number of developments in it.
“We’re good. We’re a good team,” Barnes said confidently
“But I’m proud of those guys in the second half that fought back, but the first half, I mean, it was awful. And I can’t tell you anything other than (that).”
Tennessee’s players won’t hear much about that when they get back to campus and begin moving forward from its three-straight losses.
“I think I’m gonna make ’em watch every possession of it and let them tell me what happened because, again, I’ve never seen those guys in nine years,” Barnes said. “I’ve never seen one of our teams do that. That’s as talented as this group is.”