When Va Tech got off to a 12-0 lead right out of the gates, things did not look good for Hairston-less Tar Heels. That is when Carolina picked up their intensity and probably played their best overall game of the year.
A 12-point victory in overtime after not leading the first thirty minutes of the game may not seem like Carolina played very well. The Tar Heels didn’t play great on the offensive end, but you’re not going to shoot the ball well every single night. Where Carolina won this game was by rebounding, defending, limiting turnovers, and just playing with passion and intensity.
They have failed to defend, limit turnovers, and play with a great deal of intensity all year and have struggled to win when not scoring, but today that all changed.
The Tar Heels are the second-best rebounding team in the country and today, they kept that up and out-rebounded the Hokies by 10. They grabbed 17 offensive rebounds and that ultimately was the difference in the game. The Tar Heels struggled to shoot from the outside, but they were their for offensive rebound after offensive rebound and that just leads to easy lay-ups. 20 second-chance points is always a recipe for success.
Going into the game, Carolina had been struggling on defense and today they played the top scorer in the country. Erick Green entered the game averaging 25 points per game and has only had a single game where he hasn’t scored 20 points. After today’s game, he now has two games where he has failed to meet that mark.
Possession after possession, the Tar Heels defenders were all over Green forcing him to give up the ball or take crazy shots in the paint. His 16-point performance comes mostly because he forced up 21 shots. A shooter like Green is going to make a couple shots when he takes 21, but out of his seven made shots most of them came in transition. When in the half court, Green struggled to get an open shot in large part because of the Carolina defense.
The Tar Heels has three blocks on the day including one by Reggie Bullock on Green at the buzzer. Green had the ball in his hands with a chance to win it for the Hokies, but Bullock stepped up and locked in and forced Green to take a terrible shot and one that he was able to get a piece of.
All game, Carolina was playing with intensity on the defensive end. Every possession, whether is was Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, Marcus Paige, J.P. Tokoto, or Bullock, they were getting up into the face of their opponent and forcing them to make a mistake. Carolina held the Hokies to under 40% shooting and when you do that, you have a good chance to win the game.
Another way you win tough games, is when your best player steps up and carries you the entire second half. James Michael McAdoo earned his second 20-point game of the season and first since the season opener. He recorded 22 points and 10 rebounds in the victory. In large part, his points came in the second half when Carolina finally found the weak spot in the Hokies zone.
McAdoo was able to get the ball at the free-throw line all half for a turn around jump shot that he consistently knocked down. He looks to have regained his confidence after shooting 8-12 from the field today, and that is a great sign for the Heels. Don’t forget about his patented steal at half-court that he took in for an and-1 to turn the momentum around and that was the turning point of the game.
When you shut down Erick Green, the Hokies don’t have to many other options and Carolina proved that true today. Now that the Tar Heels have proved they can play with this intensity, they need to do it every game especially when Hairston returns.
Hairston brings energy himself, and added the offensive threat the Tar Heels needed today, especially against the zone.
Overall it was a great win for the Tar Heels, no matter how ugly it was. There are three things you can control every game: turnovers, defense, and rebounding – Carolina controlled all three well today. You can’t always shoot 50% every game, but if you defend and don’t turn the ball over, you can still win.