Tar Heels layering their growth
CHAPEL HILL, NC -- North Carolina still has plenty to work on, but the Tar Heels are getting closer and closer to removing a couple of gnawing questions that have dogged them all season.
UNC handled Georgia Tech, 79-63, on Wednesday night at the Dean Smith Center combining an array of highlight-reel plays and utter silliness. Such is life right now for the young Heels. But a common denominator throughout was that the Tar Heels played with the level of intensity required to win ACC games.
They weren't always as focused as coach Roy Williams wants, but the effort, fight and grit problems really weren't much of an issue.
The range of Carolina's play extended quite a bit, from breathtaking and very Tar Heel-esque, to young and boneheaded. There were dunks by P.J. Hairston and J.P. Tokoto that brought down the house, pretty 3-pointers by Reggie Bullock and Hairston, a fast-break that concluded with Marcus Paige pitching back to Bullock for a layup that would have drawn a smile from former UNC legendary coach Dean Smith and physical play of unheralded sophomore big man Desmond Hubert.
There were steals in the halfcourt, near midcourt, and a drawn charge by Hariston among the trees in the paint. UNC's positive stretches are higher and last longer than a few weeks ago. That's a sign of continue growth, and it gives us glimpses into how good this team can be.
"Yeah, I think we're close to being a good basketball team," Williams said. "We've got to finish plays more...
"The best news is, and I hope it's in my lifetime, is we can get a lot better. I think we have every area of the game we can improve on."
Carolina (13-5, 3-2 ACC) converted just 42.9 percent of its field goal attempts Wednesday. It got a lot of good looks it didn't knock down, and it also took some ill-advised shots. Williams will be especially if happy if sophomore P.J. Hairston can consistency shoot the ball coming off the bench.
Hairston converted just 1 of 8 from the field in last Saturday's win over Maryland, but was 5-for-11 – 3-6 from 3-point range – for 15 points against the Yellow Jackets.
Among the more forgettable moments, Paige had butter fingers on consecutive possessions in the second half and made a poor decision on an inbound play as well. Tech got some open lanes to the hoop and struggling Tech forward Kammeon Holsey tied a season-high with 18 points and nine rebounds. UNC should have bodied him more.
While the Heels experienced valleys, they didn't allow it to affect the ensuing sequence. Freshman forward J.P. Tokoto's steal and immediate made jump shot right after a turnover in the second half is such an example.
"When he had the turnover he just made a great play stealing the ball back...," Bullock said. "The young guys are learning and understanding more."
The most notable next layer of growth was in how the Tar Heels came out.
Ridiculed for passive starts and appearing to think and not react for most of the season, North Carolina shot out of the gate like a cannon for the third consecutive game Wednesday. Aided by a fluid offense that included movement away from the ball, actual screening, and sound recognition, UNC led 23-15 and later 30-17. That's how you also learn to send salvos to the opposition, especially a young one such as the Jackets (10-7, 0-5).
"We're all still growing as a team and growing individually," James Michael McAdoo said. "But that's one thing we know when we come out we can control is how we're going to play and the effort we're going to give. And the execution, when it's there, we're a great team, as you can see.
"And I feel the more we play the more confident we get and the more that we see when we do show up and we're ready to play and it works, I think that will just take away those let downs."
Carolina handed out 19 assists compared to 14 turnovers while Tech was at 8 and 19, respectively. While Tech outrebounded the Heels 50-45, UNC held the Jackets to 36 percent shooting. Williams can live with the latter figure.
UNC continues winning more of the games within the games, and that's a vital ingredient in its development and why it's won three straight games.
Williams spoke after the game about what he hopes to see from this group before the season is done, and anyone who understands Williams knows he will only say what his team can become if he truly believes it.