It certainly was not pretty, but the North Carolina Tar Heels managed to advance to the Round of 32 with a two-point victory over the Providence Friars. Although they were playing from behind for most of the game, they were able to knock down clutch shots when it mattered, and will now face Iowa State for a chance to play in the Sweet 16.
I am sure that many people picked Providence to upset the Tar Heels last night, and honestly I do not blame them. They ended their season with an embarrassing loss to Duke, then had another poor performance against Pittsburgh in the ACC tournament. All of their momentum was essentially lost, and as everyone knows, it is nearly impossible to make a run in March without momentum.
If it wasn’t for Marcus Paige knocking down clutch shots at the end of last night’s game, the Tar Heels’ season would be over right now. James Michael McAdoo was given the responsibility to win the game from the free throw line, and somehow he was able to do it.
The Tar Heels, no matter how much momentum they have, cannot be counted on to win games from the charity stripe. They need to start every game strong and be in control in the final minutes, or else teams will take full advantage of the fact that they are putting up their worst free throw shooting performances in the team’s history.
The Tar Heels have now regained some momentum heading into tomorrow night’s game against Iowa State, but they are going to need a lot more if they plan to come away with a win. We all know that Paige is one of the most clutch players in the country in the final minutes of a game, but the team cannot afford to wait until the second half for him to get going. He needs to start knocking down a few threes in the first half in order for the Tar Heels to jump out to a quick lead, and then it is up to McAdoo and Kennedy Meeks to dominate the frontcourt for second-chance points.
Last night, Providence struggled immensely in the rebounding category, but the Tar Heels failed to take advantage until late in the game. Considering the fact that the Tar Heels may be one of the worst shooting teams in the tournament, it is up to their big men to go into full beast mode in order to advance further.
Iowa State will be without their third-leading scorer Georges Niang tomorrow night after he fractured his foot in their game last night against North Carolina Central. Niang was the team’s leading scorer in the game with 24 points, and as a sophomore, he was one of the team’s key players throughout the Big 12 tournament. Not only will his injury take a toll on the team on the court, but off the court as well. When a player of that caliber suffers an injury this late in the season, momentum becomes even harder to come by.
As long as the Tar Heels do not wait until the final five minutes to play at the top of their game, then I really do not see why they will not be playing in the Sweet 16 next weekend. J.P. Tokoto needs to use his stellar athleticism to control the game on the defensive end, especially since DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim can still dominate despite the loss of Niang.
This is a familiar atmosphere for head coach Roy Williams and the Tar Heels, so this is as good of a time as any to play like veterans. With a little more momentum and a strong sense of urgency, the Tar Heels will be able to defeat Iowa State and continue their journey towards their sixth national championship.