On a variety of levels this was an impressive win for UNC, mainly because it started out about as poorly as it possibly could, especially on the offensive end. It was the polar opposite of how UNC opened up the win against Maryland on Tuesday. Notre Dame was 4-4 from three in the first twelve minutes of the half to open up a 19-10 lead. Meanwhile UNC was simply awful on offense missing almost everything regardless of distance from the rim. After the Irish hit their fourth three UNC slowly got things going ending the half on a 17-4 run including a 9-0 spurt over the final two minutes. Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo, both relatively quiet until then combined to go 4-5 and give UNC some breathing room at the break.
The catalyst for getting UNC's offense on track was their defense and athleticism. UNC forced 17 Irish turnovers and used those miscues to generate much easier offensive looks. It was a critical factor in the game. Notre Dame made it clear they were going to slow things down often taking much of the shot clock to run their offense. UNC's ability to force turnovers not only stopped Notre Dame was milking the clock but it created transition opportunities that would not have been there otherwise. On the day the Tar Heel had a season high 13 steals fueling some classic Carolina fast break basketball. Notre Dame did make a run late to cut a 16 point lead down to eight but UNC did enough down the stretch to keep the Irish from making it really interesting.
Paige had probably one of his more balanced games of the season(from half to half) on his way to 16 points and six assists. James Michael McAdoo led the team with 18 points and ended up 6-13 from the floor after struggling early from the floor. A putback dunk then a layup near the end of the half sparked him to a 14 point second half. McAdoo was also a huge part of the Tar Heel defensive effort with four steals and eight rebounds. J.P. Tokoto was probably the most consistent player of the game for UNC with 13 points, seven rebounds and four steals. The only complaint in his game was the free throw shooting with Tokoto missing four straight in the second half at a time Notre Dame was showing some signs of life. As it turns out Tokoto was the exception to the rule. UNC was 15-16 without Tokoto marking the third time in four games UNC has been over 70% from the line.
UNC is now 6-4 and has done everything they needed to do in the past five games to right a severely listing ship. Yes, the schedule helped but you could argue games against Wake Forest and Miami were not all that different from the past five opponents yet the Tar Heels lost those games. Now the Heels face a tough three game set with Duke and Pitt at home then a game at FSU. Whatever confidence gained and lessons learned from the five game winning streak will be tested in the next two weeks.