North Carolina forward Brice Johnson attributed some of the Tar Heels' lack of energy in Sunday’s loss at UAB to the fact that they “didn’t get past” their win over Louisville. That actually might bode well for the Tar Heels Wednesday night heading into the Breslin Center to face No. 1 Michigan State.
If nothing else, coach Roy Williams has had the Heels’ full attention heading into this game. Williams lived up to his vow to be tougher on his team, as Johnson described their practices after the loss as more competitive -- with a lot more running. But along the way of breaking them down, Williams has also tried to build them up.
Williams mentioned coaches who have doubted their team’s ability to win on the road. He’s not one of them.
“I never put much stock in where the game is played, and I think over the long term, 25-plus years, I think that has helped our club,” Williams said.
“I thought to myself I would not want my head coach feeling that way if I am a player," he added. "You’ve got to get your team believing, so hopefully that’s what we get to.”
Believing that they can win and actually pulling it off are two different tasks. Michigan State leading scorer Gary Harris, who averages 17.7 points per game, has said he will play despite a sore ankle that kept him out of the Spartans' last win over Mount St. Mary’s.
The Spartans, traditionally a strong rebounding team, have a plus-five rebound advantage this season. The Heels were just outrebounded 52-37 by UAB.
It’s been tough to believe in these Tar Heels simply because the question most are asking entering this game is which team will show up?
Will it be the Carolina squad that ran away from Oakland and Louisville in wins or the team that looked lethargic in losses to Belmont and UAB. To hear Johnson tell it, the Heels have literally played to the level of their competition.
“Everybody was a lot more energetic (against Louisville), talking a lot more on the defensive end, we were rebounding a lot better,” Johnson said. “We didn’t seem like we had any energy out there (against UAB.)”
Like the Louisville matchup, it will actually help Carolina that the Spartans play at a faster pace. UNC's troubles offensively have come in the halfcourt. If MSU allows the Heels to get in transition, UNC has proved not only that it can play that way, but it can win that way, too.