Saturday, February 8, 2014
Heels eye Duke after escape vs. Irish
By Matt Fortuna
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Roy Williams knows that Armageddon is right around the corner. The faces and names that await his team in its next test just happen to escape him.
The latter remark drew more laughs than the former after North Carolina's 73-62 escape job here over Notre Dame. But a season-best five-game winning streak has done little to calm the neurotic Tar Heels coach as his program turns the page to Wednesday's showdown against rival Duke.
"I never feel like that," Williams said when asked if his team was finding a rhythm. "I feel like every day we've got to play the best we can possibly play or the world's going to end, so I'm never going to be satisfied."
Satisfied, no. Not after a game that began with his Heels missing 20 of their first 28 shots and falling behind by nine early. While the Fighting Irish were connecting on their first four tries from long range, UNC's missed layups were becoming a source of comedy. Consistent giveaways only fueled a Joyce Center crowd that was filled for what coach Mike Brey had called another "program day" for his Irish in their inaugural ACC campaign -- a league slate that commenced with an upset over those Blue Devils last month.
James Michael McAdoo, who had 18 points and eight rebounds, and UNC were too much for Notre Dame.
But Williams and his band can feel much better about their much-anticipated meeting with Duke given the way the Heels took charge late in the first half, creating offense with their defense to carry a 9-0 run and four-point lead into halftime.
The opening play of the second half portended more of what was to come, with the 6-foot-9 James Michael McAdoo batting off a pass near Notre Dame's bench and saving it in one motion to Leslie McDonald, who cruised in for the lay-in.
It marked the first fast-break bucket of the game for the Heels. They finished with eight fast-break points in the second half, which at times looked like a clinic of how to operate in transition. They finished with 23 points off turnovers, forcing four in the second session's first four minutes and building a double-digit lead that they never really relinquished against an Irish squad that was simply no match athletically.
Notre Dame finished 2 for its last 17 from downtown after its hot start. The Irish were unable to crack the length of McAdoo (four steals), the 6-foot-5 J.P. Tokoto (four steals) or 6-foot-9 reserve Brice Johnson (three steals), who followed his 8-for-8 night against Maryland with a cool 10 points, three offensive rebounds and two blocks in 21 minutes.
"The biggest thing was probably just our sense of urgency on defense, but with that just being disciplined and then just being really sound," said McAdoo, who had 18 points and eight rebounds. "Coach uses that word a lot, and I think that really has to do with 1-through-5 playing together and realizing that although we do strive to play perfect defense, someone is eventually going to mess up. But there's four other guys out there on the court that can help cover up for that."
This was different from the 19-6 run to open the Terrapins game, or the 18-4 lead UNC built early against NC State last weekend.
Encouraging may not be the right term considering the way the Heels struggled early in this one, but the 6-4 league record after a forgettable 1-4 start did bring out some smiles after a fifth straight double-digit win.
"Yeah, I do believe in a little bit of rhythm, unlike him," Marcus Paige (16 points, 6 assists) said at the podium, pointing to Williams on his right. "But I think we've had some success and we've been able to build off of it, and it's given us some confidence so we know what we're capable of doing now. We're not struggling as much. We're still not perfect by any means, but we understand that our defense can get us through our tough stretches on offense, and guys are figuring out their roles and what works well. And I think as long as we continue to take and build off that we can keep this run going."
Tokoto (13 points, 7 rebounds) played coy when asked about his next game before saying that momentum is ultimately thrown out the window when Carolina and Duke take center stage.
Still, it sure beats the alternative.
"It's fun, the game coming up is the kind of game you come here to play," Paige said. "But we definitely weren't looking past this. We had won a couple in a row, we didn't want our momentum to stop on a tough road game in a cold, snowy area. We wanted to keep this going, keep the win streak alive and then now we can really focus on the Duke game on Wednesday."