In the haze of North Carolina’s 81-63 victory against Boston College on Wednesday in the ACC tournament, some UNC players couldn’t remember the exact wording of the scouting report on Eagles guard Olivier Hanlan, but they knew the gist of it well enough.
“Basically it said he scores any type of way,” sophomore guard Nate Britt said. “Threes, drives, pull-ups, ball screens.”
A few seats away in the locker room, freshman guard Joel Berry tried to envision the first words next to Hanlan’s name on the scouting report.
“I think it said, ‘No open looks,’ ” Berry said. “Capable 3-point shooter, strong finisher. Drives. So that’s what was on there.”
Hanlan, who last month scored 30 points against UNC (22-10) the first time these teams played, received first-team All-ACC honors earlier in the week. He has a well-earned reputation as one of the conference’s best players, despite toiling on one of its worst teams.
Entering Wednesday, Hanlan gave Boston College (13-19) its best chance to produce the tournament’s first significant upset. The Tar Heels’ defensive strategy against him, though, frustrated and limited him as few teams have this season.
“Throughout the possessions, we wanted to switch defenders on (Hanlan),” said UNC guard Marcus Paige, who along with Brice Johnson led the Tar Heels with 17 points. “I started the first five or six possessions on him. Then we went to J.P. (Tokoto).
“Then we went to Nate and Joel, just to give him different looks. We wanted J.P. to have him most of the time because of his length and his athleticism.”
UNC’s defense of Hanlan – and particularly Tokoto’s defense of him – allowed the Tar Heels to persevere through a somewhat sluggish offensive start, and to build a 13-point halftime lead that proved far too much for Boston College to overcome.
By halftime, Hanlan had made two of his 10 attempts from the field and he was on his way to finishing 5-for-19 overall. He made one of five 3-point attempts.
Hanlan’s performance – his worst overall shooting percentage this season – contrasted to what he did against the Tar Heels in Chestnut Hill, Mass., on Feb. 7. He made 10 of 20 attempts and gave the Eagles a chance late.
That they never had much of one Wednesday was the result of a combination of factors: some luck – shots that looked good but clanked off the rim – and a sound defensive strategy that proved fruitful.
“One thing from watching film and looking at his numbers and his tendency and everything, he likes to drive – and drive hard right,” Tokoto said. “There’s not many times he goes left, so that’s one thing I focused on today, was trying to send him left, not really giving the right.”
Tokoto finished with nine points, six rebounds, four assists and a number of defensive plays that never found their way into a box score. At times he stopped Hanlan from penetrating, forcing him to pass. Other times he made a jump shot more difficult than Hanlan might have anticipated.
Hanlan had been averaging nearly 20 points and he finished with 18. The total might not have made the Tar Heels’ coaching staff ecstatic but how those points came – often with a high level of difficulty, and most of them late, with the outcome decided – might have.
“He’s going to get his, and he got 18,” Paige said. “But 18 points on 19 shots is pretty much as good as we could play him, considering the usage that he gets.”
With the exception of Stilman White, who entered the game briefly in the first half, every UNC guard who played more than a minute guarded Hanlan at some point.
A fitting strategy, given the Tar Heels were forced, again, to play shorthanded.
Kennedy Meeks, a sophomore forward from Charlotte, sat out while recovering from an illness. Theo Pinson, a freshman forward who recently returned from a broken foot, didn’t play amid concerns of residual soreness.
Given the roster limitations, and given UNC’s difficulty in putting away Boston College the first time they played, the Tar Heels made it look considerably easier than it could have been – and likely would have been, had Hanlan played as well as he often has.
But UNC, the tournament’s fifth seed, used one of its most effective defensive performances all season against a player of Hanlan’s caliber. Now comes a similar test against Louisville, the No. 4 seed, and sophomore guard Terry Rozier.
Asked if Hanlan reminded him of any other player he has defended this season, Tokoto was quick to answer. He named Rozier, and spoke with confidence of trying to duplicate the defensive performance he’d just provided.
“If you’re a competitor, you live for these moments,” Tokoto said. “ACC tournament, if you lock down this guy, your team wins.”
3 things to watch vs. Louisville
1. The Tar Heels’ defense of Terry Rozier
UNC did an admirable job Wednesday against Boston College’s Olivier Hanlan, who made five of 19 shots from the field during the Tar Heels’ 81-63 victory against the Eagles. UNC will face a similar defensive challenge against Louisville guard Terry Rozier who, like Hanlan, is one of the best guards in the ACC. J.P. Tokoto, who most often guarded Hanlan, is expected to be the primary defender against Rozier, as well. Rozier scored 25 points against UNC during Louisville’s 71-70 loss in Chapel Hill on Jan. 10, and he had 22 points during the Cardinals’ come-from-behind overtime victory in Louisville on Jan. 31.
2. Will Kennedy Meeks play?
That’s the first question. The second is if Meeks does play, how effective can he be? Against Louisville’s front court, UNC could use Meeks, who sat out Wednesday while he recovers from an illness that has affected his stamina and resulted, at times, in flu-like symptoms. Meeks, though, labored through three games before the ACC tournament. He said he intends to play against Louisville.
3. Can UNC reverse its trend of fading in the second half?
The Tar Heels haven’t put together a quality second half against a team of Louisville’s caliber in a long while – perhaps not since their victory at home against Louisville on Jan. 10. Since then UNC has held second-half leads against Louisville (on the road), Virginia and Duke (twice) but has failed to finish strongly. If UNC finds itself in another close game against the Cardinals, can the Tar Heels avoid the kind of mistakes – turnovers, rushed shots, defensive breakdowns – that have doomed them recently in the second halves of close games? Andrew Carter