After starting 1-4, UNC has won three straight with one common theme. The Tar Heel players are approaching the game with more intensity, focus and "sense of urgency." Sitting at the bottom of the ACC standings can do that to a team. UNC's response since falling at Virginia has been one where even if the play isn't always stellar, the effort shown has been.
This game played out that way, especially in the first half. The offense wasn't always great but the effort was there, especially on the defensive end. James Michael McAdoo continued his aggressiveness and it paid off with trips to the free throw line although he didn't shoot the ball well from there early in the game. UNC was getting some open looks but didn't knock those shots down as consistently as needed to really open the game up. Still Marcus Paige flipped his usual game script a little with 11 points in the first half. Leslie McDonald and James Michael McAdoo both had eight points to pace UNC to a 17 point halftime lead. UNC ended up shooting 42% in the first half but missed plenty of open looks at point blank range. NC State's offense was nothing short of awful going 10-40 thanks in part to UNC's defense and Anthony Barber talking multiple ill-advised shots.
UNC's second half effort left a little to be desired at times. Twice during the half UNC opened up a 20+ point lead only to give 8-10 points of it back. NC State's shooting was much improved in the second half thanks largely to drives to the basket for nearly uncontested layups. The help defense simply wasn't there and coupling the Wolfpack's 17-25 shooting with a couple of offensive funks by the Tar Heels the game was probably more interesting than it needed to be down the stretch. Because UNC was operating with such a large lead there was enough buffer to keep NC State from truly making a game of it. UNC also had Nate Britt filling in the gap hitting a layup when the Wolfpack cut it to 13 midway through the second half and a jumper with a second left on the shot clock to extend the lead back to 15 with 3:30 left. Brice Johnson scored eight of his ten points in the second half playing in place of Kennedy Meeks after NC State opted to go with a small lineup. However it was McDonald 4-6 shooting for 12 points that provided the biggest post halftime offensive boost. McDonald again worked within the flow of the offense and made the most of his opportunities on the way to scoring 20 points. UNC also had huge day at the free throw line shooting 75% from there including 15-17 in the second half.
In the end, UNC did enough but the lack of execution and struggle scoring at the rim could have made this a tighter game had the Wolfpack been productive on offense in the first half. UNC had 22 offensive rebounds leading to 20 points however there were plenty of missed chances there as well. The Tar Heels also had issues executing alley-oop plays and missed more than their fair share of dunks. Even McAdoo, who had been shooting the ball well, had a 4-15 game that included far too many misses at the rim. Paige was 0-4 from three as UNC had problems making open looks as evidence by McDonald and J.P. Tokoto(4-7) being the only two Tar Heels to shot 50% or better from the floor.
Despite the struggles in spots, UNC has managed to pull itself out of the hole it fell in a couple of weeks ago. Obviously the schedule has helped but this is also a team that seems to be gelling a bit with players fitting better into their roles. The current starting group has worked well and while Meeks only played 13 minutes due to match-up issues with the Wolfpack's lineup, he still managed to grab 10 rebounds in his short stint on the court. McAdoo, while shooting poorly had 13 rebounds. More than anything, that speaks to players who are bringing the right kind of effort even if the execution isn't quite there at times.