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Sunday, November 24, 2013
Tar Heels' supporting cast steps up

By Dick Vitale
ESPN.com

When I entered the Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday, I did not expect North Carolina would have an impressive win over Louisville.

The Tar Heels struggled for much of their win against Richmond. North Carolina struggled against Holy Cross and lost to Belmont. The Cardinals came in 5-0, winning by almost 30 points per game.

That is why the game is decided on the court. In a battle of Hall of Fame head coaches, Roy Williams got to the winner's circle against Rick Pitino's squad.

A lot has been made about the absence of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald so far this season. North Carolina stepped up and got a total team effort to stun the Cardinals.

Marcus Paige was the star of stars for the Tar Heels, posting career-highs in back to back games at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off event. He had 32 points against Louisville and remained the key outside shooting threat for the Tar Heels. He was 3-5 from the three-point line on Sunday and has made all but two of North Carolina's 3-pointers this season (17 of the team's 19).

It was the supporting cast that was really impressive for Williams' team.

Brice Johnson was solid inside with 13 big points, many in transition as North Carolina beat Louisville down the court often.

Freshman Kennedy Meeks stood out, especially in the second half. I was impressed with his hands and inside presence. He has lost weight since arriving on campus and he should see more minutes in the future. He scored 13 points, grabbed 12 boards and dished seven assists versus Louisville. I loved his ability to make the outlet pass, a la Wes Unseld in his day.

Nate Britt did a nice job handling Louisville's full-court pressure defense while dishing five assists.

Louisville's backcourt was outstanding, but it was not enough. Russ Smith loves to perform on the big stage and he plays for the moment. He had a career-high 36 points; backcourt mate Chris Jones added 20.

This will serve as a wake-up call for the Cardinals. You know Pitino will have his team prepared for an upcoming stretch of home games.

North Carolina will gain a lot of confidence from this victory. The Tar Heels will be a good team when Hairston and McDonald come back. The question is, how long will they have to wait as the NCAA continues its investigation into eligibility issues.