In the midst of a somewhat disastrous start to the ACC schedule, Roy Williams opted for a starting lineup change. Williams said they needed to "do something" and that something was moving Marcus Paige back to point guard, starting Leslie McDonald on the wing and playing Jackson Simmons down low with James Michael McAdoo. Whether the lineup change had any impact or not is unclear. Simmons suffered a cut on his forehead less than two minutes into the game which brought Joel James in. Getting off to a good start had not really been an issue for UNC in the three ACC losses but rather sustaining effort and offensive production after the first 5-8 minutes of game time.
That was the part UNC clearly got right in this one, especially for Marcus Paige who scored 14 of his 21 points in the first half. Paige effectively shook off a three game shooting slump to hit 6-9 nine first half shots and go 2-4 from three. His offense along with aggressive play from James Michael McAdoo served to give the Tar Heels a more complete half offensively carrying UNC to a 36-32 halftime lead. McAdoo continues to play better if he can get off to a solid start. He did that with 4-5 shooting in the first half and finished with 17 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots.
While the offense was in a much better place, the defense took a notable turn for the worse. After doing a decent job through three ACC games of keeping opposing three point shooting largely in check, the Eagles hit 6-11 from three in the first half and went 11-23 for the balance of the game. Most of the open looks came from Boston College driving into the lane, collapsing the defense and creating open looks. The Eagles also did their fair share of solid offensive execution with screening and ball movement that led to defensive lapses on UNC's part. When players are unable to effectively guard the ball and overhelp on drives or generally late rotations bad things tend to happen. When it comes against a capable three point shooting team it gives a team that might otherwise be out of the game a life line. Even when UNC went to a 3-2 zone to stop the drives, the Eagles found enough gaps to shoot threes or in some cases took a long three and made it.
The Eagles offensive production essentially kept them in the game with UNC nursing a 4-6 point lead for most of the second half. Unlike the previous three games, the Tar Heel offense was more than enough. The problem was UNC could not string together enough defensive stops to open the lead up. With UNC's chances of winning hinging on consistent offensive production the Tar Heel got key contributions from a variety of players in the second half. Kennedy Meeks provided a boost off the bench with ten points and six rebounds all after halftime. Leslie McDonald had his share of questionable plays but assisted on a Brice Johnson basket with UNC up by just two at the 8:29 mark. He then followed up with a critical three to give UNC a ten point advantage with 4:32 left in the contest.
Then there was the play of J.P. Tokoto who had one of those classic "stat stuffer" games finishing with 14 points, five rebounds, six assists and three steals. Eleven of Tokoto's points came in the second half and he was also 4-4 from the free throw line. Tokoto was consistently hitting his mid-range jumper and nearly brought the house down with a missed dunk that saw him take off from the ACC logo in the lane. While UNC needs Paige and McAdoo to do what they did today, Tokoto provides a level of versatility and impact on the game that cannot be ignored. When that trio plays well and gets solid contributions from Meeks(10 points), McDonald(10 points) and Brice Johnson(8 points and five rebounds) this team is much closer to the Louisville/Michigan St./Kentucky unit than what has been seen over the past two weeks.
It should be noted that this offensive explosion came against a suspect Boston College defense. Not that it really matters. Sometimes players need to see the ball go into the basket to build confidence even if it came against a weaker defensive squad. The key for the Tar Heels is to carry some of the momentum to Charlottesville on two days rest versus a good Virginia team. UNC got a much needed win to avoid the 0-4 start. The next step is sustain from game to game the same way they did from half to half in this win.