Watching the first half of the North Carolina-Maryland game on Saturday was like a trip back in time, it was almost like I was dreaming or watching film of last year or another season in which the Tar Heels were more successful. What Reggie Bullock and to a lesser degree James Michael McAdoo did on the offensive end was impressive, but that’s not what I’m talking about. UNC can score, at 78.6 points per game they are in the top 15 in the nation despite playing four of the top 20 defensive teams in the country already this season.
It’s what they did on the defensive end of the court that was impressive. All season long this team has struggled to play hard on the defensive end. Instead of playing aggressive and tough, they played soft and scared, instead of going for the steal or block shot, they were more likely to not even challenge the offensive player. Not against Maryland, they were all over the court in the first half, even at times when it seemed like they were beat on the play where they typically give up and concede the score, they stayed with the play. Desmond Huberts block early in the first half, P.J. Hairstons steal along the baseline and many other plays stick out as examples to me.
A 22 point lead going into halftime ended up being a 10 point win, yet another game in which the Heels failed to play a full 40 minutes. Basketball is a game of runs and you can’t expect even the very best and most veteran teams to completely shut down the opposition the way UNC did MD the first 20 minutes of the game for the full 40, at the same time, the effort still needs to be more consistent.
At the end of the day, Carolina did what they needed to do, they came up with the stops at the end of the game when they needed them and put the ball in the basket again when they needed to. The mental toughness stands out the most, when the pressure was on these last two ball games, UNC did not crumble, they stood tall, buckled down and got the job done. UNC now stands at 12-5 overall and 2-2 in the ACC after dropping their first two contests.
This is a huge week with another two conference games against Georgia Tech which should be an easy win (emphasis on the phrase should be) and a showdown with NC State on Saturday, after all the talk of how overrated this team is and the this team is going to the NIT chatter, going 2-0 this week would likely put this team back in the top 25 and in the drivers seat towards a respectable seeding in the real tournament in March.