The North Carolina Tar Heels are rolling right now, and they are showing no signs of slowing down. Last night they defeated the Maryland Terrapins 75-63 to move to 5-4 in the ACC and 15-7 on the season. Although the margin could have and should have been much larger, a win is a win and now the Tar Heels are inching closer to the top of the conference standings.
Marcus Paige played like the star guard we all know he is in this game, leading the team in scoring with 25 points. He made four shots from beyond the arc and also finished with a solid seven assists to help lead the charge against the Terps. When he plays like he did last night, the Tar Heels are nearly unstoppable. Usually the Tar Heels’ bench contributes heavily to the scoring effort, but in last night’s game, Brice Johnson was the only player to score off the bench. He finished second on the team with 19 points, and he was a perfect 8-for-8 from the field. James Michael McAdoo continued his surge in the frontcourt with 12 points and eight rebounds, but his free-throw shooting was horrific for a change. If the Tar Heels want to beat a team like Duke or Pittsburgh then they must start making shots from the charity stripe. They were lucky to win a game shooting 19-for-37 from the line, and that seems to be the only stat in need of improvement moving forward in the season.
As for the other Tar Heels starters, J.P. Tokoto struggled to get much of a scoring game going, but he did lead the team with nine rebounds. Leslie McDonald was able to knock down two clutch threes, and although the stat sheet did not show it, Kennedy Meeks had a huge game alongside McAdoo in the frontcourt. They may not be Tyler Zeller and John Henson, but McAdoo and Meeks are a huge threat down by the basket and they always find a way to cause trouble for opposing defenses. Speaking of defense, the Tar Heels forced 16 Terps turnovers and held their leading scorer Dez Wells to 18 meaningless points. The Tar Heels outrebounded the Terps 40-32 and also came away with 10 steals on the night.
Don’t get me wrong, this was a solid win, but the Tar Heels seemed to take the Terps a little lightly after jumping out to a quick 19-3 lead to begin the game. They started committing stupid fouls, and they left Evan Smotyrcz and Seth Allen open beyond the arc on too many occasions. Luckily, the Terps only shot 39.3 percent from the field, so the Tar Heels’ laziness did not come back to bite them. The game should never have gotten as close as it did by the end of the first half, and when they came out for the second the crowd seemed completely out of the game. Momentum is everything if the Tar Heels want to continue this surge in the ACC, so they cannot afford to let it slip at any point in a game no matter how many points they are leading by.
The Tar Heels have one more game against a struggling Notre Dame team on the road before entering the toughest part of their ACC schedule. After Saturday’s game they take on Duke and Pittsburgh back-to-back, so it is vital that they maintain this momentum and sense of urgency. This four-game winning streak is the Tar Heels’ largest of the season, and this may be a sign that they are a brand new team that is ready to do some serious damage in March. We cannot jump to any conclusions until after the Duke and Pittsburgh series, but for now the Tar Heels are looking like the team we all knew they could be before conference play began.