John Henson and Leslie McDonald arrived at Lawrence Joel sporting fauxhawks, and had the best games of their careers. Henson finished with 9 points, 12 rebounds, 5 blocks and the largest smile on his face I've ever seen. McDonald led all scorers with sixteen and was a big part in a defense that held Ishmael Smith to 5 of 21 shooting. The end result was a 77-68, UNC's first win against a team not named N.C. State since January 10th.
The game was a great example of a team accepting its limitations and succeeding in spite of them. The missed shots are still a problem, there was a stretch early in the second half where the turnover problem raised his head again. But the defense, which has been improving up until the FSU game, stepped up and frustrated Wake into their worst shooting performance of the game. They kept Chas McFarland and Al-Farouq Aminu on the bench with foul trouble for critical portions of the game, allowing more perimeter pressure. The same Wake team that shot 56.3% from behind the arc in Chapel Hill was held to 37.5%, and a season low shooting percentage overall. Smith was held scoreless in the first half, and L.D. Williams was driven to try to do to much, getting his points mostly from the line after going 3 of 13 from the field. McDonald and the rest of the Heels were much better at stopping the dribble penetration, limiting the kickouts for open threes.
Speaking of the line, that too continues to frustrate the Heels. or at least Larry Drew. Drew took almost half of UNC's free throws, and it obviously got into his head. At one point he was 2 for 10, late in the game when Wake was fouling to keep it close. The poor shots eventually got him benched, and he bounced back to sink two late to keep the game out of reach. Free throws continue to be a problem overall, and if the game had slipped out of their hands because of it, I don't know what that could have done to this team's fragile psyche.
It didn't though, and UNC became the first ACC team to leave Winston-Salem this season. It also means next week's winnable game at home against Miami will be for Carolina's 2,000th. A nice farewell gift for a senior class who've had a very rough time of it this season. It's a little late to turn everything around, but this is a start.