CHAPEL HILL — There were moments this season when North Carolina players doubted themselves after defeats when they questioned their abilities.
Now, in the midst of their longest winning streak of the season, the Tar Heels believe theyre starting to show their potential.
North Carolinas 79-58 victory against Florida State on Sunday was the Tar Heels fifth consecutive, and it was among their most complete of the season.
The Tar Heels (21-8, 11-5 ACC) controlled the game on offense and shot 55.4 percent. They dominated on defense and forced 15 turnovers that UNC converted into 23 points.
It was a performance that would have pleased coach Roy Williams at any point in the season. That it came in UNCs first game in March, though, was another positive sign for the Tar Heels, who have appeared reborn since Williams changed his starting lineup and style of play in the middle of February.
Were still in the process of getting used to (it), Williams said of the four-guard lineup.
Its all about winning, he said. So you have to be happy with that part.
The Tar Heels played their sixth game since Williams inserted guard P.J. Hairston into the starting lineup. The change made them a more potent offensive team, and one more capable of running in transition and scoring points in a hurry.
The Tar Heels did that particularly well during one stretch in the first half, after Florida State (15-14, 7-9) took a 16-15 lead. From there, forward James Michael McAdoo scored inside.
Moments later, he made a steal near midcourt and sprinted in for a dunk. Fouled, McAdoo completed the three-point play at the free throw line.
The biggest thing was trying to play with energy, said McAdoo, who scored 17 of his 21 points in the first half. Nobody was necessarily playing with energy including myself.
And coach was really preaching that in the huddle.
McAdoos quick five points ignited the Tar Heels. After trailing by a point with about nine minutes remaining before halftime, UNC outscored Florida State 31-11 to close out the first half.
McAdoo scored 15 of the 31 points during that span, and he ended the half with a layup that just beat the buzzer.
Florida State never made a significant dent in the Tar Heels 19-point halftime lead. The Seminoles never cut their deficit into single digits, and UNC led by as many as 23 points during the second half.
Offensively, the Tar Heels played as efficiently as they have all season. Their shooting percentage represented a season high for a conference game. It was their defense, though, that had them hopeful that this winning streak could persist.
If everybody buys in on the defensive end, I believe that we can continue winning games for the rest of the season, guard Reggie Bullock said. Were definitely going to score the ball. So if we just focus in on defense and live on the backboards by going small, I believe we can continue this run for a long time.
Bullock finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, and made four of seven 3-point attempts. Hairston made four 3s, too, and finished with 16 points. McAdoo, Bullock and Hairston UNCs three leading scorers combined for 57 points and almost outscored Florida State by themselves.
I think were getting more confident, Williams said. And we should be.
After his teams lackadaisical performance during its victory at Clemson on Thursday, Williams vented. He was frustrated most of all by his teams inability to rebound during the second half, and he challenged the Tar Heels to play with more toughness.
He cracked a joke that the Tar Heels arent going to win many brawls.
Were basketball players and were cute and all that kind of stuff, he said. But we have to have toughness going after the loose ball.
Williams, then, liked it when forward Jackson Simmons dove on the court for a loose ball and saved a possession that turned into a 3-pointer. Williams appreciated it, too, when Hairston drew a charge.
The numbers on the box score reflected the success, but UNC excelled in areas that didnt show up on the stat sheet.
We didnt have those kinds of plays earlier in the year that were having now, Williams said. I think thats really helping us, too.
--After North Carolinas victory at Clemson on Thursday, UNC coach Roy Williams expressed frustration with James Michael McAdoos struggles to finish scoring opportunities around the basket. McAdoo got the message, apparently. Offensively, he was much more aggressive and successful on Sunday than he had been in UNCs two previous games. McAdoos 10 made field goals tied his season high, and were his most since he made 10 in UNCs season-opening victory against Gardner-Webb. I knew I needed to play, McAdoo said.
--During the final seconds on Sunday, some members of the UNC student section began chanting the name of Andrew Wiggins, a high school senior who is considered by some to be the best prospect in the country. There was one problem, though: Wiggins was not in attendance. He will reportedly visit UNC when it hosts Duke on Saturday. Upon hearing the Wiggins chant, Williams walked toward the UNC student section and motioned for the chant to stop. Hes not even here, Williams shouted.
--Reggie Bullock, UNCs junior guard, was again the teams leading rebounder on Sunday. He finished with 10 rebounds, and was also second on the team with five assists. Bullock, who scored 20 points against Florida State, led UNC with nine rebounds on Thursday at Clemson. His double-double on Sunday was his third of the season, and second in UNCs past three games.
--UNC during a halftime ceremony on Sunday recognized Phil Ford and Bill Guthridge. Ford, a three-time first-team All-American during his years as the Tar Heels point guard, was in November inducted into National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame last November. Guthridge, who for 30 years was a UNC assistant coach under Dean Smith, be inducted into the North Carolina Sports of Hall of Fame in May.
Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter