First off, let's deal with the ugly. UNC continues to struggle on defense giving up too many three pointers and allowing dribble penetration all the way to the hoop for easy layups. The Tar Heels continue to play timid and were largely out hustled in the first half as well as allowing OSU to be the aggressors. OSU shot the ball extremely well from beyond the arc in the first half and while some of that was flat out bad defense, the Buckeye shooters also hit some fairly long shots which were difficult to defend. By and large the first half was another example of UNC not bringing the intensity when they are equipped with the depth to bring it for forty minutes.
All that beind said, UNC was still very much in the game at halftime despite the poor shooting on the offensive end and the rather porous defense shadowing the OSU perimeter players. The second half was interesting in that UNC came out very aggressive and seized the lead only to fall into a lull which gave OSU the lead back by as much as six. The combination of poor OSU shooting down the stretch and a new sense of urgency from the Tar Heels shifted the momentum permenantly to the boys in Carolina blue. As I said in the live blog, it is unusual for teams that shoot as hot as OSU did in the first half to keep it up for the whole game. In some cases halftime shifts the mentality and in other cases fatigue sets in or the other team actually plays better defense. I think it was all three though OSU did continue to hit threes when they needed them for the most part except for about a five minute stretch beginning at the eight minute point in the second half when they seemed to go cold. This sort of thing happens and when OSU does add Greg Oden they will be even more formindable simply because they have a stronger defensive presence on the inside.
As for UNC, this was a great confidence building game for the team and for certain individuals. On the team level, UNC showed some toughness and resilency in bouncing back from the poor first half to seize control and eventually salt the game away. Being at home helped and the superior depth made a difference in the end. UNC just simply played up to the level of their talent in the second half. It was not perfect but it showed how good they could be in certain aspects of the game. This game played out like many NCAA Tournament games do from the Sweet 16 on where you can be in a dog fight and it becomes necessary reach down deep and find that effort you need to survive and advance.
Of course the biggest story out of tonight's game is the coming out party Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington had. Lawson started at point in lieu of Bobby Frasor who had a sore foot but eventually played. Lawson showed signs of brillance in almost every aspect of his game with the exception of free throw shooting and defense. Lawson had 13 points which included some clutch shots and five assists. He also did not turn the ball over and that is a very big deal. At one point I said that he was starting to get it and with his play tonight it is clear he is close to being fully adjusted to the level of play. Wayne Ellington pulled off one of those gaurantees by saying he would score 19 points on his 19th birthday and then doing so. Ellington played with a lot of energy, made some key shots and even played some good defense with two steals, one leading to a layup which put the game out of reach. Having these two freshmen step up, particularly on a night when Brandan Wright was limited due to fouls, is a huge step in the direction of UNC finally beginning to click.
And what can you say about Tyler Hansbrough? 20 points, 14 rebounds(five offensive) and two blocked shots. Double and triple teams did not matter he found a way to score. As for the rest of the cast it was nice to see Deon Thompson play so well even if it was for nine minutes. Frasor, Miller, Green and Ginyard also made crucial shots at points throughout the game which was huge. Reyshawn Terry still looks like he is in a funk though he made a few good plays tonight.
So, for the most part it feels like the teams is coming together. Granted there is a long way to go here but given the nature of this game and the prowess of the oppoent, UNC played some great basketball tonight. The defense is still a project and I am leaving it with Roy Williams to figure out how to make it better since we know it can be done because it happened from one half to the next tonight. The concerns are still very real but watching UNC play tonight and win against a high caliber team like OSU shows me that progress is happening with the development of UNC as a cohesive unit. The defensive improvement is vital as is getting to a point where 40 minutes of aggressive play which dicates the game.
I think it is coming, because we saw it tonight more than at any point in the first five games. I see no reason why it will not continue this weekend against Kentucky.