There have been lots of great, memorable games in the history of the North Carolina-N.C. State basketball series. The Tar Heels’ 84-70 victory against the Wolfpack on Saturday wasn’t among them. Neither team played all that well, but N.C. State played far, far worse – at least in the first half.
As is the tradition in these parts, some thoughts:
1. UNC won without its best effort.
Coach Roy Williams has said his team isn’t good enough to win without its best effort – that the Tar Heels have to maximize their potential to be successful. That might still be true in most cases.
Saturday, though, UNC played sloppily and, in the second half, pretty poorly. Yet the Tar Heels led by double digits for basically the final 35 minutes. They made it look easy against N.C. State, probably because it was.
The Wolfpack was dreadful in the first half, when it made 10 of 40 shots from the field and looked lost offensively. N.C. State simply didn’t challenge UNC early, and the Wolfpack never recovered. The Tar Heels weren’t at their best but they didn’t need to be to beat a neighborhood rival by 14 points. That’s a good sign for UNC.
2. James Michael McAdoo continues to be an early tone-setter for the Tar Heels.
Statistically, this wasn’t one of McAdoo’s better games offensively. He made four of 15 attempts from the field, and he struggled again at times from the free-throw line, where he made eight of 14.
Still, McAdoo again set the tone early with his aggressiveness and effort. He took the ball to the basket on UNC’s first possession and drew a shooting foul eight seconds into the game. On UNC’s third possession, he did the same thing, and then again on the fifth possession.
Two minutes and 16 seconds into the game, McAdoo had already drawn three shooting fouls. He went 3-for-6 from the line on those trips but, still, his aggressiveness early seemed to send a message and set the agenda: UNC was the aggressor throughout the first half, while the Wolfpack seemed to play timidly at times.
3. Might the Tar Heels be making their free-throw woes a thing of the past?
I asked Williams on Friday, after UNC made 13 of its final 15 free throws at Georgia Tech on Wednesday, about whether he thought the Tar Heels had turned a corner with free-throw shooting. “No,” he said.
Clearly, UNC’s strong finish at the line against the Yellow Jackets did little to convince Williams that his team had suddenly become a good free-throw shooting team. UNC did it again Saturday though. The Tar Heels went 25-of-33 from the line – 75.8 percent – and they made 15 of 17 in the second half.
That helped UNC keep a comfortable margin throughout the second half, even while it shot poorly and N.C. State improved. Williams said he was “ecstatic” by the free-throw shooting in the second half, and back-to-back strong games at the line have to help his team’s confidence there, too.
“It (was) a great opportunity for us, especially coming in – the positions that both teams were in. We both needed this win. But it’s a great day to be a Tar Heel.”
– James Michael McAdoo
The Tar Heels (14-7, 4-4) will host Maryland on Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the Smith Center. This will be the final time UNC and Maryland meet in the regular season as ACC opponents. Maryland is leaving the league to join the Big Ten next season. Maryland (13-9, 5-4) has won two consecutive league games and four of its past five.