UNC 78 Villanova 71

Jamie Squire

North Carolina blows a 20 point lead but finds a way to survive a tough game against Villanova to give Roy Williams career win #700.

Yes, that was much harder than it had to be.

This was a very strange game both in how it unfolded and what the final stats show. The Heels had one of their worst games taking care of the ball since the Texas game, got dominated on the boards and could not stop any of Villanova's interior players from scoring any time they wanted. They opened up with four turnovers in the first four minutes and playing very poorly then over an eight minute span in the middle of the first half the Heels went on a 29-8 run to stake a 32-12 lead. And you think UNC was on their way to the Round of 32 when the Heels basically stop scoring. It is unclear if it was Villanova stepping up the defense or UNC relaxing too much. Probably both and the 20 point lead turned into an 8 point halftime advantage and a two point deficit early in the second half.

After UNC's lead had fallen apart and the starters seemed to be going through the motions, Roy Williams went Blue Team so he could spend some quality time with the starters. The bench crew did their job and kept Villanova in check long enough for the starters to return. From there, threes by Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston put UNC back in control before one last Wildcat push made it a one point game. Enter Marcus Paige who seems to thrive in big game situations. Paige hit a three to make it a four point game and on the next possession pushed it back to four with two free throws. He then found Hairston streaking to the basket for the layup and foul to effectively clinch the game.

Paige had 14 points and four assists continuing his transformation into a reliable option at the point. Bullock and Hairston did what they do and combined for 38 of the 77 points. When the offense was executed and found those two, the Tar Heel lead grew. When those shots were not available things got dicey. To their credit, Villanova made getting open looks on the perimeter difficult but UNC found a way when it needed it most.

The three point shooting was helped by Jackson Simmons who played the final eight minutes when WIlliams decided to go big again but with Hairston on the wing instead of Dexter Strickland*who was struggling.) Simmons did a nice job setting screens for shooters and even though he had his problems against Villanova's big men, I am not sure the Heels win the game without him on the floor. James Michael McAdoo had 17 points and made a couple of big hustle plays that were key. One was tracking down a rebound at the baseline which resulted in a Hairston three. The other was recovering his own miss and getting a putback in a game where UNC rebounds were rare indeed.

The great thing about the NCAA Tournament is it doesn't matter how the last game went. All that matters is getting the win and getting the next opponent. Obviously the Tar Heels will need more of that 8 minute stretch in the first half and less of what went on most of this game.

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