Things could get tough in the lane for North Carolina on Saturday now that reserve 7-footer Tyler Zeller is out 4 to 6 weeks with a stress fracture in the third metatarsal of his right foot.
The key for the 12th-ranked Tar Heels: get tougher.
In the blowout loss to Clemson on Wednesday, starting forwards Ed Davis and Deon Thompson combined for only eight points. They were often out of position, weren’t aggressive, and when UNC’s post players did get the ball, they had trouble finishing plays. By coach Roy Williams’ count they missed five shots from within two feet of the basket in the first half, then five shots – in one possession – from two feet in during the second half.
After the game, Thompson said he had trouble getting in position because of the rapid pace.
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“I told Deon, respectfully I disagreed,’’ Williams said Friday. “His statement was that the game was so fast-paced and he and Ed were not able to get involved. Well, wasn’t it the same pace for Clemson? And their guys were involved. When we have Deon and Ed and Travis and David [Wear] -- for four post guys to not shoot a single free throw, we’re not involved. And their guys shot free throws.
“ We’ve got to get our big guys to post up, demand the ball, post up lower, post up stronger, and then we’ve got to get our guys to throw them the ball. That’s something we have to do every game, but we really have to do it against Georgia Tech.”
The 20th-ranked Yellow Jackets boast one of the most physical frontcourts in the country in 6-9 sophomore Gani Lawal and 6-10 Derrick Favors, plus 6-8 Zach Peacock, who comes off the bench. Williams called the trio “rugged.”
“If you’re talking about strength and athleticism, they’re at the top of the list,’’ Williams said.
Without Zeller’s points, rebounds and five extra fouls, UNC is going to have to find a way to match that – which means learning how to tough it out.