This North Carolina team continues to confuse. One thing that is clear is that after their 63-61 win over Notre Dame, no matter what happens in the game against Duke, they’re heading into the ACC tournament as the hottest team in the conference, but without anyone really knowing what to expect from them.
For the second straight game they struggled against a much inferior opponents (Virginia Tech were the previous team), getting a big play from Marcus Paige to win the game. Up by two points, North Carolina defended the last Notre Dame possession. Eric Atkins drove towards the basket, but Paige used his weak hand to block the shot and seal the win.
The question is – who are the real Tar Heels? The guys who lost earlier in the season to Belmont and UAB? Or this team that has been scorching through the ACC since their rough start, and might end the regular season with a sweep against Duke, although it won’t be enough for them to claim the conference title, as it goes to Virginia without anyone having a shot at sharing it.
So while Notre Dame are headed towards a rare losing season unless they win their final game (15-16), North Carolina had to dig deep and play some defense in order to win. Things went smooth in the first half, leading by 14 points and scoring 41, but they shut down in the second half, needing some big stops in order to keep the Irish at bay.
James Michael McAdoo led the team with 14 points and 9 rebounds, while J.P. Tokoto added 11 from the bench. They were the only two players scoring in double figures, as Roy Williams started with four seniors alongside McAdoo. Marcus Paige came off the bench to play for 35 minutes, finishing with 7 points on 2-of-8 from the field. The only senior who has actually been a significant part of this team, Leslie McDonald, was also having a rough game with 2-0f-8 from the field, finishing with 5 points.
Notre Dame got big nights from Atkins (21 points) and Pat Connaughton, finishing with a 17 points, 13 rebounds double double. However, ugly basketball and effort weren’t enough of a setting for a Notre Dame team that doesn’t have any sort of depth, struggles making anything happen in half court sets and couldn’t keep the Tar Heels off the offensive glass, allowing 11 offensive rebounds.
Roy Williams lamented issues we saw from this team earlier in the season – the difference between one half and the other, the lack of effort or concentration/focus for a long stretch and actually looking more passionate about winning in practice than in a game.
But if this team can build a 12-game win streak, beating some good teams along the way, not to mention what they’ve done earlier in the season, they also have what it takes to make it big in the tournament format. It’s hard to really put North Carolina in a favorite or underdog category, or to even know what to expect from them. However, over and over again they’ve shown how good they can be, and that there’s a good chance that the big occasion might bring out the best of them once more.