Defensive improvement fueling Tar Heels’ winning streak
North Carolina hasn’t peaked, but its rising maturity level is coming at an opportune time.Heading into Saturday’s tilt at ACC leader Miami, the Tar Heels are fresh off an 87-62 drubbing of Wake Forest and have found paths to victory in three straight and five of their last six.
“Our play on the defensive end is becoming more consistent,” said Iowa freshman Marcus Paige. “It’s not stretches where we have lapses in effort and stuff like that. We’re committed more to that end of the floor.”
In reaching the halfway point of their league slate, the Tar Heels (16-6, 6-3 ACC) have struggled to mesh without a recognizable floor leader, regardless of it coming from the traditional spots of point guard or low post. But the defensive consistency has fueled head coach Roy Williams’ desire to transition quickly.
“That’s the game that coach likes, and that’s Carolina basketball, getting out in transition and making easy points,” said Kinston junior Reggie Bullock. “That’s the biggest difference from early in the season until now.”
Against the Deacons, Bullock (23) and Norfolk, Va., sophomore James Michael McAdoo (20) each hit the 20-point mark in the same game for the first time, a point not lost on Williams.
“Everyone would agree those are our two main guys on the offensive end, and probably most consistent,” Paige said. “To have them put up big numbers, it makes it easier for all of us.”
The Tar Heels welcomed Greensboro sophomore P.J. Hairston (concussion) back and never got a strong test from the Deacons (10-12, 3-7 ACC) in a battle of longtime Big Four rivals.
North Carolina shot better than 60 percent deep into the second half, balanced 10 players scoring in the first half and moved Williams within nine career wins of 700.
The Smith Center crowd of 19,653 came to life throughout the evening, particularly when Hairston tossed in a pair of 3-pointers and soared through the lane on a follow shot, Bullock closed the first half with a 3-pointer capping a 15-1 run and New Jersey sophomore Desmond Hubert flushed an early dunk.
“I think we’re more mature, we’re more experienced, but it does help us to have everybody available,” Williams said of the team’s growth.
The Heels, coming off an emotional overtime win over Virginia Tech, even avoided the potential trap game opponent before heading to Coral Gables.
“People can say what they want about us now,” Paige said. “We know if we keep improving every game, we’re going to be where we want to be at the end of the year. This upcoming game is a really big game, but we had to take care of business tonight.”
“It was good, but we can’t just love this win,” Bullock said. “We’ve definitely got to prepare for Miami. They’re a great team.”
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