For those of you lucky enough to miss the FSU game this weekend, Carolina was looking out for you. They put on an encore performance in futility for the first half tonight, allowing Dorenzo Hudson (season average, 11.4 ppg) sixteen points in the first half on 5 of 5 shooting, four of them coming from beyond the arc. UNC flailed for the first twenty minutes, missing shots and turning the ball over while the Hokies, after a slow start, couldn't miss. Only a last second John Henson dunk kept the Heels' deficit at a manageable five points, and the basketball world at large seemed primed for a second meltdown.
And then UNC remembered they were a title contender. More accurately, Harrison Barnes remembered, going a perfect 6 of 6 from the field to finish with 21 second-half points, while Virginia Tech as a team would only manage 29. More importantly, the defense, already the key engine of this team over the passed few weeks, found another gear. Free of the concern that the Hokies would try to drive on them, UNC finally confronted their three-point shooters, as Henson would notch six of the team's nine blocks. They also proceeded to dominate the boards, pulling down one fewer rebound in the half (24) that VT had for the entire game (25). It was as dominant a second-half performance I've seen from UNC this season.
O course, it won't be enough to satisfy the skeptics until Carolina can play like that for an entire game, and against ACC opponent that can manage a conference win. And that job got a little tougher when Dexter Strickland went down clutching his knee early in the second half. Diagnoses from the medical professionals at Twitter ranged from a torn MCL to a torn ACL to the rare Bari-Bari kneecap detonation; it'll be a few days before Dr. Tim Taft, actual medical professional gets to announce what the actual prognosis is. UNC will really mis his defense, of course, although I think people have been sleeping on how much Reggie Bullock has improved this this season in all aspects unrelated to shooting.
A lot of folks seemed to think if Carolina had continued to flounder tonight, it would have been the end of this team's championship hopes. I didn't think so, having seen a Carolina team start ACC play 0-3 and still make the Final Four. But I can say I'll sleep easier tonight knowing the Heels were able to light a fire under themselves at halftime and take their game to the level they should be at every game. UNC now has an entire week to prepare for N.C. State, a team they rarely have trouble getting pumped up for. here's hoping they can continue the momentum.