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January 20, 2010CHAPEL HILL - The moment of truth for North Carolina came when fans started exiting the Smith Center in droves with about four minutes remaining.
And the reality was that the Tar Heels are officially on a losing streak.
"It's just new to us," senior Marcus Ginyard said. "I've never felt like that before. I can't remember being at home and our fans leaving because we were down."
No. 24 North Carolina lost its third straight conference game and its second in a row at home, falling to Wake Forest 82-69.
It marks the first time that the Tar Heels (12-7, 1-3 in the ACC) have ever lost three games in a row under coach Roy Williams and the first 1-3 start in league play since the infamous 8-20 season of 2002-03.
"We're all down right now," said freshman Travis Wear, who started in place of the injured Ed Davis. "Carolina basketball isn't supposed to lose three straight. It's kind of mind-boggling at this point, that we've lost three (ACC) games, and we're North Carolina."
Carolina was within one point of the Demon Deacons (13-4, 3-2) early in the second half, but from there Wake started burying outside shots to pull away.
Backup guard Ari Stewart hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Deacs up 13 points midway through the second half, and then C.J. Harris matched the feat to push the advantage to 15 three minutes later.
Wake went up 18 points when point guard Ishmael Smith buried a three with 5 ? minutes to go.
In all, the Deacons were 7-for-8 from 3-point range in the second half, a stark contrast to the Tar Heels' 6-for-26 performance from beyond the arc in the game.
"They didn't make many tough threes," Williams said. "They made open threes."
Injuries were once again a factor for the Tar Heels, with Davis suffering from a left ankle sprain. He warmed up but did not play.
While missing Davis hurt - especially on the backboards - most of UNC's problems keeping up with the Demon Deacons were in the backcourt.
Smtith and Harris had 20 points each, with Smith adding six assists and seven rebounds.
While Harris and Stewart killed the Tar Heels with their shooting, Smith did it by penetrating to the basket at will.
Twice, he blew by the UNC defense to get an easy lay-up with the shot clock about to expire.
"He's a really gifted young man who's playing well for them right now," Williams said of Smith. "In the past, he hasn't been the threat that he is right now, and he is a threat for them."
Carolina could have used someone like Smith to spark its offense.
While the turnover numbers improved - UNC committed just two in the second half and nine overall - they struggled to get the ball inside and settled for a ton of outside shots.
"We've got to do a better job in a lot of areas," Williams said. "It is what it is. It's the ACC, and no one feels sorry for you.
"My confidence level is: I'm going to work. I'm going to coach my rear end off. It's up to (the players) to come with me."