Commentary: Owls show potential despite getting blown out 80-56 at UNC

Rolando Rosa

If I told you FAU came into Chapel Hill to play the No. 11 Tar Heels and at halftime did the following:

  • Shot 25 percent from the field
  • Had three points on 1-8 shooting from their Parade All-American point guard 
  • Turned the ball over 12 times
  • Had two turnovers, no rebounds and three fouls from their 7-foot center
  • Allowed 11 offensive rebounds

Wouldn’t you assume the deficit going into the break would be in the 30s? At least the 20s, no? At worst, a double-digit lead.

Think again.

FAU trailed by just eight at halftime as National Championship coach Roy Williams gave his squad an earful going into the tunnel.

So even though the college basketball galaxy wasn’t set off its axis by a monumental upset, the first half of the Owls 80-56 defeat proved that once the rust comes off, this team will be a joy to watch.

The Owls hung tight in the first half largely because of the left arm of their senior sharpshooter. FAU guard Greg Gantt had a game-high 13 points at the half on 3-5 shooting from 3-point range. He finished with a team-high 18, second only to the 19 points of UNC’s James Michael McAdoo.

Collectively, the Owls were severely undersized against the larger Tar Heels but they worked well as a team to compensate for their shortcomings.

“One thing FAU has done is a good job of limiting North Carolina to one shot,” analyst Jimmy Dykes said with the Owls only trailing by five at the 13 minute mark of the first half. “They’re a small club, but are doing a good job of gang-rebounding on the defensive end.”

The Owls defense held the Tar Heels to 34.2 percent shooting through the first 20 minutes of play. North Carolina’s shooting woes extended to the charity stripe, where they shot a putrid 28 percent at the half.

Center Dragan Sekelja fed Gantt for a pair of 3s, the second of which tied the game at 19. Yet, throughout the game, the offense was relying too heavily on the 3-point shot. The Owls missed 20 of 29 3-pointers in the contest. Whenever the ball found its way to Sekelja, however, quality opportunities were present.

“Sekelja has terrific skills,” Dykes said of the Owls new big man. “To me, he’s the trigger guy of the entire offense.”

Despite his array of talents, Sekelja at times attempted to do too much, often taking on the entire Tar Heels defense by himself. The 7-footer can be a deadly weapon for this team, but it needs him to play smarter. He ended up with two rebounds, two turnovers and four fouls.

The heavily hyped freshman Stefan Moody also struggled in his first collegiate game. The highflyer over-dribbled and coughed up the rock six times, chucking up too many 3s (seven, to be exact).

The ESPN analysts scolded Moody for his performance, but still see the potential.

“Stefan Moody has really struggled in this game. Parade All American, terrific talent, but right now, he is shook in this building,” Dykes said. “He’s playing way too fast. He’s used to scoring 28 points a game and he’s just lost any type of rhythm that a lead guard has to have in this building.”

At one point Moody attempted to go coast to coast for a layup, only to have the ball bounce off his foot out of bounds.

“What you did in high school, you have to be able to do at the next level in college, but you have to be able to do it with fewer dribbles,” Dykes said. “This kid is still trying to do things off five, six, seven dribbles— that will not work at this level.”

For the game, he finished with just eight points on 3 of 12 shooting.

His backup shot the ball equally as dreadful but showed much more energy. Cavon Baker made only one out of his 10 shots, but showed his defense will be his ticket to playing time. The 6-foot-2 New Yorker racked up five rebounds while playing tenacious on-the-ball defense against the heralded Tar Heels backcourt.

With nine new pieces, this FAU team is virtually brand new. There’s no need to worry over one game. Especially when it’s against a perennial championship contender such as North Carolina. The Owls were without a potential starter (Chris Bryant, who is currently ineligible to play), and didn’t play their best basketball, yet had the Tar Heels sweating at intermission.

To put matters in perspective, the Owls finished with only one more turnover than the heralded Tar Heels.

At the halftime show, ESPN said something about FAU’s coach that could be echoed by the rest of the national media if the Owls play to their capabilities.

“Give respect to Mike Jarvis,” analyst Adrian Branch said. “The veteran coach is doing a great job of keeping North Carolina out of transition.”

The team was predicted to finish fourth place in the Sun Belt. After watching today’s game, that might be too low.