North Carolina arrived at snowbound Atlanta on Tuesday night and left a day later with a 78-65 victory against Georgia Tech.
And, as is the custom in these parts, some postgame thoughts …
1. If intensity defined the Tar Heels against Clemson, it was toughness against Georgia Tech.
Not to make too big a deal of it, but this was an usual, difficult road trip for UNC. Roy Williams said his team was “fortunate” on Wednesday night, and he acknowledged that a great number of people had things far more difficult than he and his players did. Still, the winter weather that rocked Atlanta on Tuesday challenged the Tar Heels, too. Because of it, they didn’t get back to their hotel until about 1:30 Wednesday morning, and then they had to walk several blocks through the snowy, icy streets after riding the MARTA from the airport to midtown Atlanta. There was a good amount of adversity in the game, too. UNC persevered through dreadful first-half shooting, and foul trouble, yet it found a way.
2. Marcus Paige continues his bad-half, good-half trend.
Paige, the Tar Heels’ sophomore guard, played poorly during the first half. He rushed shots. He missed shots. He took ill-advised shots. In the second half, though, he was a different player. Paige in the first half: 2 points, 1-for-7 from the field. In the second: 17 points, 6-for-6 from the field. He made three 3-pointers in the second half, and also made both of his free throw attempts. So any shot that he attempt in the second half, he made. Williams said it has been “weird,” this trend of Paige playing significantly better in one half compared to another. “We’ve played 20 games, I bet he’s had one half that’s much, much better than the other half in 15 of those 20 games,” Williams said. “I mean, I’m serious. I can’t explain it. If I could explain it, I’d let him sit on the bench the bad half and play him the good half.”
3. The Tar Heels came through at the free throw line.
Now there’s a sentence I was starting to doubt I’d write this season. UNC entered Wednesday night shooting 61.2 percent from the free throw line. Indeed, the Tar Heels have been one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the nation, and they’re on track to be the worst free throw shooting team in school history. (Only once in school history has UNC shot less than 65 percent from the line. That was during the 1953-54 season, when it shot 62.9 percent.) As crazy as it sounds, though, UNC’s ability to make free throws played a significant role in its victory. UNC led by 10 points when Leslie McDonald went to the line with three minutes and 38 seconds to play. He made both attempts, and the Tar Heels put away the game in large part because they finished the game 13-for-15 from the line.
UNC shot slightly better but the Tar Heels had a significant edge in offensive rebounding, which allowed them to generate more scoring opportunities. UNC took eight more shots from the field than Georgia Tech (63 to 55).
“We were so much more fortunate. People had it ready for an excuse, and I told them we were lucky. I mean, a lot of people out there 15, 20 hours in the car. We didn’t have any problems. … We rode the MARTA and carried our own bags instead having a nice comfortable bus. We got in and somebody said we talked six blocks. If you walk six blocks I was surprised I walked it myself. Carried two bags, I didn’t think it was that far … it was a tough situation in Atlanta.”
UNC hosts N.C. State on Saturday at the Smith Center. After an 0-3 start in ACC play, the Tar Heels can even their league record with a victory against the Wolfpack, which has won three consecutive league games after a 1-4 conference start.