CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina still has a ways to go before it becomes the kind of team coach Roy Williams and his players believe it can be.
But Reggie Bullock said Tuesday after an 87-62 victory against Wake Forest that the Tar Heels are right around the corner from it.
There were some great stretches that we had, Bullock said of the performance against the Deacons. But there were still some stretches that (we) could have done a lot better. Once we just put a whole game together fully, I believe well be Top 25 a top team in the country.
Its difficult to argue with Bullock, the junior guard who Tuesday night led the Tar Heels with 23 points 12 of them coming on 3-pointers. Since a humbling loss at N.C. State a week and a half ago, UNC has won three consecutive games none more impressive than Tuesday.
As well as the Tar Heels (16-6, 6-3) played, though, the Deacons (10-12, 3-7) were their equal in futility. Wake Forest entered the Smith Center ranked last in the ACC in field-goal percentage defense, and the Deacs lived up to their dubious reputation especially during the first half.
Thats when Wake Forest allowed the Tar Heels to shoot 62.1 percent. UNC during the first 20 minutes had no shortage of open looks, many of them coming after Wake Forest turnovers. They committed 21 of them 13 during the first 20 minutes. Some of those helped the Tar Heels close the half on a 15-1 run that gave them a 47-27 lead.
UNC had been in this position before, with a commanding lead at halftime against an opponent that could do nothing right. But the last time it happened, against Maryland, the Tar Heels let up, and let the Terrapins hang around during the second half.
Not this time.
We talked a little bit about that at halftime, said Marcus Paige, UNCs freshman point guard who finished with seven points, a career-high six rebounds and four assists. That weve been in this situation before, and we acted as an immature team. (Williams) said if we want to grow as a team, we cant have that kind of thing. So well see what kind of team we have tonight.
Even with its lead long secure, UNC kept attacking on offense and kept disrupting Wake Forests offense. The Tar Heels lead grew to as large as 34 points with about six minutes to play, and Williams called for the walk-ons to enter the game with about two minutes left.
After it allowed that 15-1 run to end the first half, Wake Forest never came close to getting back into the game. The Deacons played carelessly on offense, and made just 43.6 percent of their attempts from the field.
While they missed shots and committed turnovers at an alarming rate, the Deacs werent much better defensively. The Tar Heels made nine of their 15 3-point attempts, many of them coming on wide-open looks. Inside the 3-point line, James Michael McAdoo, UNCs sophomore forward, often did what he wanted.
He finished with 20 points, and made seven of his 12 attempts from the field. It was the first time this season Bullock and McAdoo, UNCs primary scorers, finished with at least 20 points in the same game.
I think we really feed off each others energy, McAdoo said.
The Tar Heels received contributions from just about everybody who played. Twelve players scored, including P.J. Hairston. He suffered a concussion last week during the victory at Boston College, and he sat out Saturdays victory against Virginia Tech.
Williams said he had experienced an up and down roller-coaster of emotions because of Hairstons uncertain status. Hairston showed signs of being able to play Sunday, but then he came down with what Williams described as a 24-hour virus.
Recovered in plenty of time for the game, Hairston scored 11 points in 12 minutes Tuesday. He said he felt fatigued early, but that he quickly regained his rhythm after a couple of trips up and down the court.
As a team, the Tar Heels rarely were without their rhythm Tuesday. They held a 32-26 lead before that game-turning 15-1 run. After it, the outcome was never in question.
The 87 points were their most against an ACC opponent, and they now have scored more than 80 points in three of their past four games. In UNCs past three victories, it has provided signs that, slowly, it just might be in the midst of becoming the team Williams hopes it can be.
OBSERVATIONS -- Wake Forest was awful defensively on Tuesday night, and routinely allowed UNC open looks on the perimeter and uncontested shots on the inside. To make matters worse for the Demon Deacons, the Heels had better ball movement than normal. Better ball movement was a focus entering the game, said Marcus Paige, UNCs freshman point guard. When we get stagnant and shoot a lot of shots off the dribble, any team playing a set defense is going to make us struggle, Paige said. But we did move the ball a lot better we were pretty smooth on the offensive end.
-- For whatever reason, the Demon Deacons have been a different team at home as opposed to on the road. At home, they beat N.C. State and gave Duke a scare. On the road, theyve been blown out more often than not. After the Tar Heels went on a 15-1 run to close the second half, Wake Forest never showed any fight, and came close to getting back into the game. The Deacs have now lost three consecutive conference games by at least 20 points.
-- James Michael McAdoo, UNCs sophomore forward, had been noticeably more aggressive during the Tar Heels past two games. McAdoo, who had often been hesitant and tentative earlier this season, has been much more quickly lately to make a move after catching a pass. He has found success both with driving into the lane when catching a pass near the baseline, or with releasing a quick jump shot. For the first time in his collegiate career, he has scored 20 points in consecutive games.
Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter