The UNC Tar Heels went on a shock and awe mission in Tuesday night’s outing against the in-state counterpart, Wolfpack.
This could be easily be an article throwing confetti on Kendall Marshall’s aggressive scoring performance of 22 points, 13 assists. Or it could be a praise-worthy tip of the hat to Harrison Barnes’ 20 point effort and ability to somehow always be around the ball.
I decided to write this article on a much more fundamental, often-overlooked aspect of the Tar Heels’ game plan: Defense.
There are few times I watch Roy’s boys really fight through every screen, box out every defender, and throw a hand up in every shooter’s face. It’s normally a race for possessions. Tuesday’s game was a nice change of focus. Sure, C.J. Leslie put up a career high 24 points and 12 rebounds. He’s a good player and good players step up in big games. It’s to be expected.
However, N.C. State shot 29-70 (41% FG) and went 3-13 (23%) on 3-pointers. These stats give evidence to an untold story of the game: defensive pressure.
When the Tar Heels matched up against Dook, I watched a lazy defensive squad playing lackadaisical basketball—skirting under screens and not communicating whose man is whose. The latter of which exploded in the Tar Heels’ faces as Tyler Zeller was forced to guard their best 3-point shooter (25 feet from the basket.)
That was not the case last night. I didn’t hear a peep from the Wolfpack’s Scott Wood, their behind-the-arc gunner (just three points.) I saw Tar Heels leaping for every defensive rebound (snatching 18 of them) and UNC absolutely swatting their fair share (eight as a team.)
Watching the Tar Heels weather the first half surge by the home team was what really drove it home for me—every decent college basketball squad can shoot. Who wins and loses goes hand and hand with who wins on the defensive side of the ball.
You can’t let the other team score more than you do. It’s pretty simple, right?